A new identity: The Learning Reducer

Following on from my reflective posts in recent weeks about my experience, things I have seen in the workplace and the challenges the world faces I have come up with a title for myself: The Learning Reducer.

Inspiration (outside of learning)


instead of adding stuff, try taking stuff away” 


– Rick Rubin: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/rick-rubin/

The inspiration for this title is a combination of music producer/reducer Rick Rubin and what I have realised during this period of reflection.  Further logic behind the ‘reducer’ moniker:

“Girls” is indicative of Rubin, who initially portrayed his role as “reducer,” not “producer.” 1980s music had a lot of needless flourishes and additives. Rubin’s mission was to boil off excess and serve the essence. Rick is often portrayed as a producer who does almost nothing to the music he touches. Which isn’t to say that he does nothing. The opposite, in fact, is true. Like a great chef, he chooses the best ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. The genius is in the selection and arrangement of those ingredients.

In the case of “Girls,” it’s one part drums, one part piano, and four parts asshole.


DAN CHARNAS: https://www.complex.com/music/2012/03/25-best-rick-rubin-songs/girls

Inspiration (from learning)

In part my adoption of Reducer is based on some things that have really stood out to me during my time working in learning over the years, including:

  • Subject Matter Experts (or worse people responsible for something who are not even an SME) throwing requirements ‘over the fence’ to L&D whilst refusing to engage or find time for proper needs analysis.
  • Mandatory ‘training’ stipulated by government and other groups with no consideration for personalisation, real outcomes or other needs.
  • Bloatware learning where learning is elongated by everything from a corporate logo (even just for 5 seconds) at the start of a video through to fixing ‘learning’ into an arbitrary schedule of an hour, a work day, etc.  As a result organisations have been left with lots of legacy learning content that is difficult to manage, update and makes little us of the opportunities AI, AR and other tech gives us. 
  • Inefficiency – we hear a lot about productivity gaps but do very little about the basics around skills, process, etc.  There have been improvements in encouraging honesty and learning from mistakes but tackling fundamental bad practice, for example with Microsoft Office, remains an issue.
  • Self importance.  Unfortunately we all fall into the trap of thinking our piece of the pie is most important.  Realistically, the product/service of our organisation is most important and in big organisations we only contribute to (or sell) it.  Therefore, the need for learning to drive self aware and reflective practitioners is all important – what we don’t need are bloated learning (or other support teams) expecting the impossible or putting self interest ahead of the shared vision/goals.  There is also the snobbery issue here in self importance of learning professionals and a failure to support all learners – too often focusing on leadership and high level concepts.
  • The learning industry is in need of shedding a lot of dead weight (learning styles, Myers Briggs, etc).  We are seeing new ideas emerging but often people are clinging to ideas (like 70/20/10 in totally the wrong kinds of ways).  As an industry/profession it feels like learning pros constantly beat themselves up but are far too slow (still) in shedding the old sheep dip training for something that adds more value.  Admittedly because too often things are thrown over the fence as ‘requirements’ (see above).

Reducer as critical friend

So – can I be the learning asshole?  Well, perhaps I already am – I noticed myself verging into this territory recently when asked to give feedback on pre-launch content from new vendor Thrive and also with the UI of a recruiting platform I was given early access to.  

There feels like a value in looking at L&D from the perspective of critical friend.  Seperate from industry or SM expertise.  If only to ask a question of L&D pros practice: why?

What is applicable to super scientists is applicable to all.

Reducer and curation

Curation is not new – even though some L&D commentators would have you think it is.

Blog followers will know I get a bit of a “bee in my bonnet” about curation as an L&D topic.  However, it is a facilitator of ‘reduction’ – pick the best of what is out there and maintain current awareness without excessive build times and other traditional L&D activities.

Curation done well has to be part of a continuous improvement culture.

Reducer and culture

Through a learning reducer focus we can establish true learning organisations. 

Agile learning through experience and reflection, combined with ongoing collaboration via digital means.  Where face-to-face and virtual classroom are reserved for real value added sharing and relationship building.

Learning can be embedded in work, agile in deployment, is owned by everyone and contributes to learner/employee engagement.  This works both in education settings and the workplace.

What next?

Contact me to discuss further as I continue to develop this chain of thought.

BETT2018

Unusually I was quite looking forward to BETT this year.  The usual trepidation ahead of fighting through slow-moving crowds perhaps tempered by knowing I wasn’t doing “the new year double-header” with Learning Technologies:

The positive vibes for BETT were perhaps also coming from some hope regarding a new ‘learning space’ in our HQ that would need fitting out with appropriate tech.  So, whilst I used to always ignore the ‘physical’ classroom stuff at the show, this year I found myself drawn to wipe clean glass desks, chewing gum resistant tables and laptop trolleys.  All in all it was quite an eye opener checking out some stuff that I’ve only really had a passing interest in over the years.

There were only a few seminars I had earmarked as worth attending so it was to ExCeL I went with the usual expectation that making it around the show floor would take most of the day – the particular sessions I did attend are reflected on below.  Also some general notes from the floor:

General thoughts from the floor

One of the major criticisms of BETT is that it is the hungry pigs at the trough of school spending/funding.  So soon after the Carillion collapse this perhaps stood out even more this year – with Capita and Microsoft probably having the biggest stalls to show quite how much of a “market” education now is.  Of course this is a little harsh on Microsoft who are often playing the long game in getting kids and uni students used to their tools on the cheap so they then query employers as to why they are still using Excel 2010 and/or Apple and/or Google.  I’m totally one of those suckers…

…pretty sure I said something similar about discussion boards in c.2004.  There’s also plenty of big ‘learning’ players at BETT – working across BETT (for schools), HE, workplace and more – such as Techsmith, Kaltura, Canvas, Claro, D2L, McGrawhill and 3M.

I attended a few bits and bobs on other stalls, including a good one on the Microsoft stand considering PISA and the future competencies learning professionals need to be supporting:

wp_20180125_14_22_27_rich.jpg

Anyways, whatever your political persuasion and thoughts on capitalism’s influence on the classroom its likely you would still look twice at the presence of the Russian, UAE and other nations’ stalls.  They seemed more pronounced (to me at least) this year but I probably think that every year.  That said, the French stall had a few interesting startups and a pleasant amount of stereotyping in the branding:

WP_20180125_13_32_20_Rich

 

Overall I fleetingly pass stalls when in BETT, in part as I don’t have a particular budget I’m looking to spend, some reflections from this year’s wander:

  • Whiteboards, screens, etc – 4K seems to have given this area a boost although a session I started to watch (facilitated by two wonderfully confident early teens) soon turned into the usual Smart farce when the software wasn’t working properly.  Still feels like a software-lite solution is best in this space so one less thing can go wrong (even if Tango and others seem to have nice additional software) – one of the worse inventions ever was the Smart TV turning a previously immediate boot device into something that has to ‘load’, update and crash.  I was though intrigued by a few claims related to “eye care tech” built into devices.
  • Laptop safety – as mentioned above, device security is potentially going to be of interest to me in coming months so it was interesting to see how the tech in this space has developed with an array of tablet-friendly lock and charge systems – as well as wireless/contact less charging.  Wireless charging remains, for me at least, still slightly magical yet the sowed it is very much deployed and ‘in the real world’.
  • GDPR was out in force with some data regulation, hosting/protection suppliers having (literally) stuck it on as an additional to their stall’s advertising.  The impact on education was also in a number of magazine and flyer takeaways.  Presumably, as with other industries, there will be a lot of people failing to prepare for this and others cashing in on the general misunderstandings and malaise.
  • VR seems to be developing along but still seems of most use where there are clear experiences to be gained – the idea of experiencing a WWI trench in VR sounded intriguing and akin to the use for highlighting the issues Syria faces: http://www.360syria.com/intro .  I’m torn on if we would ever want ‘rapid’ VR authoring or if that will open the floodgates to awful VR in the way PPT to SCORM converters did for eLearning.  Although templated AR might be useful?
  • LMS.  You would think in a school environment that the LMS/VLE would be a central tool.  However, you still get the feeling that Google for Education and Office 365 are central (on the authoring and deployment side) with student information systems the data coal face.  Perhaps due to budgets, it is seems increasingly that another (LM) system isn’t a priority – perhaps as schools will also be face-to-face focused in the first instance.  Also there seemed to be growing numbers of add-ons to 365 (such as https://www.livetiles.nyc/ that do some of the job).
  • Mobile: Nice to see that, at least some, classrooms and taking advantage of students carrying powerful devices with them by leveraging them in the pedagogy – for example with: https://www.wooclap.com/ and https://nearpod.com/
  • https://www.iridize.com/ (for context sensitive employee performance support on systems) and a few others looked less ‘BETT-y’ and perhaps more suited for the LT show.  TootToot for feedback/safeguarding would also have uses outside of the target school models and they are apparently working on an enterprise version.  Similarly Derventio’s performance management tools were clearly suitable outside of the school market – but, as always, do you want integrated HRM or multiple systems?
  • Furniture: a few worthy mentions for interesting products – Mirplay, Learniture, Freedesk, Folio, Wall Art and, surprising to see at the show, John Lewis (for Business).
  • AI: wasn’t as obvious as might have been expected.  No doubt many of the publishers (even Britannica who were celebrating their 250 anniversary) are working this in and there are other products out there like https://www.tassomai.com.
  • As well as the usual programming, robots and other cool stuff:

WP_20180125_14_19_12_Rich

Talk 1: National College for High Speed Rail on the 4th industrial revolution

Didn’t really feel like it went anywhere this one (perhaps ironically considering the home org of the presenter).  Useful I guess if people were not aware of the ‘IR4’ buzz/argument but with little direct applicability beyond a call to the attendees to be innovative.

Basically argued that the college is set up, via apprenticeships and innovative approaches, to tackle modern workplace challenges.  Yet I thought that whilst it is all well and good that this new style of college exists to “disrupt” – the use of new tech in “everything we do” sounds a little like setting itself up to fail (or at least retract when budgets are cut in the future).  Interesting bits like their use of Azure for combining data didn’t sound like they were too ‘new’ – instead leading to early warning indicators like Starfish and other solutions have in the past.

Talk 2: Leading a digital learning strategy

An impressive school turnaround story from a headteacher who put digital at the heart of the school approach.  Really a rare cultural success story with a successful 1-2-1 device programme.

Tips for success were not surprising but good to see a success story for once:

  • Sustainable, not one-off investment
  • Don’t expect tech to make life (i.e. teaching) easier: just different
  • Tech rich, not paper free: still room for outdoor learning, physical science, drawing, etc.
  • Used what was right for them: Chromebooks and GSuite
  • Staged roll-out: staff with pupils so learning together over a three years (not a complete ‘big bang’)
  • Used distance learning software and techniques when relevant (and when needed like school snow days):  including having people collaborate in the same room but at different desks, i.e. get pupils used to workplace digital collaboration style remote working
  • Google Sites for ePortfolio allows for parents to be more involved with the demo of work and outcomes
  • Continuous feedback on teachers via Google Forms to allow iterative improvement.

What was pleasing was the trust evidently put in pupils, with low-level web filtering and pupils allowed to ‘own’ their device.

Still clearly a way to go – for example, they are looking at audio feedback (even though that was well embedded when I worked in HE c. 10 years ago).  I hadn’t seen the immediate feedback available in the education version of Duolingo which looked quite good.

Overall, inspiring and the point made that a lack of IT teacher/department hasn’t held them back – and has probably helped as it means shared ownership in their culture – is probably as revealing about failed projects elsewhere as anything.

Talk 3: GDPR

A decent session that made the point that GDPR is a major issue for schools and that one reason why it is tricky is that it is really made up of three equal parts: cyber security, data protection and information governance that had, previously, been developing separately and experts find difficult to cut across.

Unfortunately were in a world of pretty terrifying stuff – like one school who were targeted by a phishing attack and parents then lost £150k in paying fraudsters a fake school charge.  A key point here being that the processing activity is key – e.g. it’s not IT’s responsibility but rather the user (such as HR teams as they hold personal data).

Getting onto Windows 10 was identified as an easy step to improve compliance and that everyone needs to be clear where they are on meeting requirements – with a way forward plan by the introduction in May – rather than compliant from day one.

Talk 4: Digital transformation

More a summary from the Ludic Group on changes in the last 20 years and some ongoing trends:

WP_20180125_15_51_58_Rich.jpg

WP_20180125_16_08_38_Rich.jpg

Nothing major here unless, perhaps, people entered disagreeing with his “digital changes everything” mantra and had their heads turned or, indeed (and this is a possibility as the Q&A question was “what is blended learning?”[!!]), eyes opened.

UKeIG: Digital Literacy in the Workplace

This day workshop really ended up getting me thinking and my thoughts (as articulated below) are probably still not very tidy.

What does being ‘digitally literate’ even mean?  What does digital literacy look like?  What does it mean to different industries/sectors?  How does it compare to Information Literacy?

Perhaps predictably for a CILIP group event the first couple of presentations were quite focused on Information Literacy [in the SCONUL kind of sense] and the day did continue to think a lot about electronic resources and e-information.  This said, it did highlight how different people have different views on DL, for example mine would be more in line with the Belshaw model than how information professionals might consider the topic [note I tend not to call myself an info pro anymore!].

Key activities related to the topic were included in the day’s presentations, my interest in attending being particularly around the training of ‘clients’ (although a number of delegates made the point of not calling it ‘training’ to increase engagement), to up-skill staff and students (the latter for the large number of delegates working in education).  The “don’t call it training” advice will be well known by L&D folks and Wendy Foster’s session on the City Business Library made the point perfectly: it should be outcomes/WIIFM focused, i.e. not “database training” but “creating business to business contacts”.  eLearning was also mentioned as increasingly important for library/information professionals – and I made the point on Twitter that some of us have moved away from the ‘traditional’ profession via this route:

 

Personally, when I think about digital literacy, I’m thinking digital competency and capability.  This includes how people can be encouraged to be open to technological change, continue to develop their knowledge and skills within the requirements of their role and for possible future needs.  Indeed in the initial brainstorm of what it meant for us, I made the point of saying that it really can mean anything and everything.  I continued by arguing a need to “get on with it”, more than worrying about definitions, in a similar way to how L&D faffed about with what “coaching” meant only for people to go ahead and crack on with it (in various guises).

The different perceptions, semantics and language used around the topic continued to come up throughout the day and I couldn’t help but feel that businesses have adopted “digital transformation” as a buzzword, largely via IT Services, whilst a lot of professions have been left behind.  This is an interesting one for libraries/information considering eLib was a very ‘early’ series of service transformations (again for education – and a key part of my MA dissertation) that arguably (at least in my dissertation) was not followed through (or at least maintained).  eLib, however, is largely the cause of the LMS language divide between workplace LMS (learning) and UK higher ed (library – and use of VLE over LMS).  Anyways, I’m getting waylaid by semantics and history (which I tend to be)…

The day considered various pieces of research such as the ‘Google Generation’ which got me thinking about the laziness, ‘buzyitus’ and other factors which might be as important as UI/UX decisions:

 

A couple of sessions referenced Information Literacy in the Workplace by Marc Forster.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked at this [at c.£50 (it’s a Facet book after all) I’m unlikely to] nor the also referenced Information Literacy Landscapes by Lloyd.  Overall there remained a feeling that we were talking about a narrow subset of the digital skills I would consider people need.  I quite liked this model when reflecting on the day and Googling alternatives and, for workplace’s aligning to the apprenticeship standards, perhaps functional skills frameworks are the standard to be applied.

The JISC session nicely considered the wider issues (Flexing our digital muscle: beyond information literacy) but, unsurprisingly again, was very HE orientated – their model of “digital capability” however could be flexed for other environments.  Is the model of creation, problem-solving and innovation (in addition to an information focus) the way to go when thinking about digital skills – i.e. should they just be embedded at appropriate (Blooms taxonomy?) levels of technical capability?

Overall, there is a huge impact on productivity from information overload, a lack of digital skills and related issues.  If we (as in our organisations and the UK overall) are to improve perhaps we need to recognise this and invest in people for longer term impact and improvement.  Whilst one session, correctly, pointed out that work is about “KPIs not coursework” it is also an oversimplification.  As required skills are changed by technology the knowledge, skills and behaviours will change and be reinforced.  In terms of quick wins, the start point may well be developing some shared vocabulary within your own organisation to then support people with.

Can L&D learn anything from The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) experience?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40356423

The above article is one of many to pick up on the outcomes of the first UK Higher Education TEF results.  The standout piece of the story, for me, is that the measures being used to judge “teaching”, including:

  • facilities,
  • student satisfaction,
  • drop-out rates,
  • whether students go on to employment or further study after graduating.

are as, the article points out, “based on data and not actual inspections of lectures or other teaching.”  Swap out “data” for “indicators” and you basically have the L&D model.

The Ofsted inspection of schools is, of course, more teaching focused but, even there, judgments of schools use other metrics.  School teachers, for example, are expected to support “progress” that is influencing by beyond what is immediately impact-able.  The impact of other factors, like parenting, are not factored in.

Therefore, between Ofsted, TEF and L&D (via models like Kirkpatrick) we really do not seem to have cracked the nut of measuring how well we develop learning and improvement.

With TEF it feels like a missed opportunity to evaluate the quality of ‘traditional’ lecture centric programmes versus more seminar or online models.  Some included elements, such as student evaluation of facilities, are also surely difficult considering most students will only know one HEI and thus not have something to benchmark against.  The cost of London living presumably impacting on the poor perception of many London-centric organisations, including LSE.

So, beyond saying “well universities haven’t cracked it either” what can L&D departments learn?  I’d be interesting in hearing people’s thoughts.  One item from me – with the growth of apprenticeships and accredited programmes “training” is being reinvigorated but also being reimagined with a performance focus and approaches like bitesize learning away from the big “programmes”.  Therefore, for me, the more metrics the merrier to try and build a picture of our organizations.

ALT Winter Conference 2015 (Day 2)

I am hoping to attend at least part of a few ALT Winter Conference sessions today, notes below.

Jessica Gramp (UCL): Welcome to ‘Moodle My Feedback’

  • Moodle plugin being developed at UCL – this was an update on progress as it has been showed at previous events.
  • Adds My Feedback to profile block.
  • Problems with default Moodle included feedback is stored in TurnItIn – this tool aggregates links back to TII, rather than having to go into different courses to find them.
  • Tells you if students have looked at feedback.

Using Social Media Data in Learning Practice and Research

  • 9 minute demo video: https://vimeo.com/147996126 using Facebook data, visualized, for research.
  • Overall I took that the point here was there are a huge amount of possibilities and questions from this.

Gaming the Conference: can Playful Interactions Engage Delegates

  • #altcgame
  • Some details on the game that took place at the conference.

Arena Blended Connected (ABC) rapid curricula development at UCL

  • Presentation on an approach that has been found to be a great way to engage academics.
  • Previously did not have a coherent way to talk to academics about their programmes, they have adapted Ulster’s approach from JISC Viewpoints project.
  • “Connected Curriculum” – wider framework for good design at UCL: this is the C part.  A and B help with the structure to reach those outcomes.
  • Core to the approach is a “Gamestorming” 90 minute workshop, have a high energy discussion on what to do.  Consider issues such as what learners should be doing, mockup of examples of modules (broken down by learning types), etc.
  • Argue best to not start with assessment as to allow for mindset that anything could be assessed.
  • Use session to bring in other elements such as high level costing of module development, impact of including videos, etc.
  • http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ele/

TFPL – Dashboards in Excel Made Easy

  • Not an ALTC session but another webinar I attended today.
  • How to build dashboard combining one function, a chart, some data validation.
  • Used COUNTIF to count a total from data.  COUNTIFS for multiple.
  • Use bar conditional formatting and then create chart from there.
  • Add data validation with tool-tip for interactivity on page.
  • Then format the worksheet as a dashboard – basically calling on data elsewhere through a visualised approach.
  • Overall this was relatively straight forward stuff.

The Future of Learning: Project-based teaching and assessment supported through new media technologies

  • I didn’t attend too much of this one but when I came in then there was a discussion of some of problems with current university education, including the student focus on grade and the resulting concentration on what the exams will be.
  • Presenter’s research has just reconfirmed that content heavy education leads to rote learning.
  • Need to align assessments with what you really want the students to learn.
  • About personal journeys – only way to ensure students take subject to heart.