To time or not to time

Expected duration. Time on task. Lock stepped vs open. Start and end dates. Peer pressure motivation. Collaborative vs independent.

All of the above are all too well known for online learning developers. Does your design measure progress? Is it via time on task, do you lock access based on progress, do you enforce weekly or other spacing, use pre and post testing to adapt the experience or some other method? These issues are often tied to if you are allowing people to access content versus undertaking more collaborative activities.

This week I have had chance to pick up a few “courses” (well resources really in some cases) and this has got me thinking again about the temporal aspect of online learning. For example, is there value in Coursera basically unenrolling you from their courses to fit in their schedule, with the option to reenrol on the next session. This is partly as there are discussion activities but, in reality, the timing adds nothing to the learning experience for those wanting to pass through the course at their own pace.

Google, for example, advertise that they have opportunities via Coursera yet the company known for “organiz[ing] the world’s information and mak[ing] it universally accessible and useful” lock these “job-training solutions” to their/Coursera’s timelines rather than those of the interested party.

This expectation of working through at someone else’s pace is poor instructional practice when, in reality, many such courses are combinations of async activities such as videos, reflections, quizzes, etc. The defence for the model is probably facilitator support (i.e. being able to have someone online to help with questions). However, this seems contradictory to the idea of flat rate charging ($39 a month* as in the below image) without the traditional Coursera “audit” (i.e. FREE) access option. If the intention is to increase completion rates through forcing a time-based fear/scarcity mode of motivation this similarly is poor given there is not the personal support you would have in, say, a traditional university course to give you a hand and nudge you along to the final deadline.

Ultimately it feels that if this is the model then these courses need to be designed to allow any time joining with, say, monthly cohorts for discussion boards. Indeed we were designing similarly to this for rolling start degrees back in c.2010.

Ultimately it feels like MOOCs continue to fail at their stated objectives time and time again.

* also Google obviously have enough money to support skills development without charging for such items as CSR activity.

The often ignored realities of talent management (#7): It is the little things that count (in the office)

Having returned to an office environment for the first time in a while I have realised that a number of things I used to be quite dismissive of actually matter quite a lot, this might be my “reality” rather than a wider set of rules but here goes:

  1. Fresh air – it makes a huge difference if you can get it, i.e. if your windows actually open rather than being in a glass box.
  2. Open plan vs smaller offices – I have often been critical of open plan in the past but starting in a new environment of (nearly) one-to-one offices (many people having their own and others sharing in small groups) has made me think again. It is very tricky to know how best to interact in a small office environment if you are used to open plan. What is too much noise? Is it okay just to interrupt people to say hi? These are “organisational culture” type issues I have been generally dismissive of in the past but my experience has made it clear – you need to be clear to new joiners what the expectations are. I would say my best past experiences are of small office (approx. 6-8) layouts where an immediate team can be based together, discuss as appropriate, avoid bothering others too much and be a clear “unit” for those coming from elsewhere.
  3. Screen glare is really bad – sun onto screens does not work. I used to involuntary cry when leaving the office at one of my old jobs and I am now wondering if it was artificial light glare on the screens.
  4. Intranets, Office 365 profiles and social tools – okay so I am an advocate for these anyway but if your organisation has them then you should HAVE to use them, to be transparent and help with working out loud yes but simply so newbies know who people are.

There are other things I have noticed too from shifting from a work from home routine:

  • Shoes hurt.
  • I talk to myself. A LOT.
  • Daily faff of commute, desk setup, etc. really is a waste of time and money.
  • Face-to-face meetings are useful but Zoom is fine. Face-to-face social activities are far more useful.
  • I am very very unfit and really need to do something about it! 🙂

10 years on: the end of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in England (and “Creative” approaches to the job market)

This post is a little early, as applications were no longer available from Jan 2011 but we are now basically at the 10 year point for the EMA closing in England.

It is still available elsewhere in the UK.

First the bad, I worked in Further Education (16 year olds +) when the EMA existed and it created problems. The college I worked at had a very “them and us” divide within the student body between students who wanted to be there to learn and students who were (at least seen by their peers) only there to claim the (small) allowance. The insinuation was that some of these “just turning up” people had other sources of income (for example drugs) or simply were attending for something to do, a small amount of cash and/or to keep their parents happy (to the point where there were accusations that tutors were intimidated to report attendance even when learners were late or absent).

@TheIFS report from 2010 reviewed the impact of the EMA and if closure was a good move: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5370

Even with my concerns over the previous experiment (see above) where might an EMA style system fit in the future? I would argue that an EMA would be more effective in the 18+ age range as a form of Universal Basic Income. As a guaranteed income, it could allow adults of all ages to continue their personal development and formal accreditation whilst potentially not having to take as huge a pay cut to try a new career route via apprenticeships, etc. In such a scenario we would ideally “top up” salaries to some previous level, meaning mortgages remain affordable whilst people take time to “reset” their income generation, or at least can sell a house with slightly less pressure that what redundancy or other enforced change of career normally brings. This “top up” would be similar to how some unemployment schemes work worldwide, i.e. you do not just baseline everyone to a minimal level of income, and encourage more mid-career reskilling and moves to sectors needing people.

Yes, this would be hugely expensive but given that state finances have gone out of the window in 2020 (even more than in 2008-2019) perhaps not in a bad way. This is of course timely given the current state of the job market and the need to think of “creative” solutions for the future:

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”.

Not all innovation is created equal

A few things lately have got me thinking, once again, about what innovation means, particularly in the area of online learning.

The Covid crisis has brought a lot of this to the fore, for example the list below are just two things which have been day-to-day activities for me (and many others) for over a decade (or more) but are genuinely new for others:

  • Training companies and education institutions moving their operations to online (be it virtual classroom, webinar, async, LMS/VLE, etc.)
  • Primary collaboration between colleagues taking place online, rather than face-to-face, via VOIP, Teams, ESNs, etc.

These changes will be seen as transformational for some organisations, and not for others. This will have the knock-on effects that digital transformation has, for a while, promised – unfortunately including job losses. Leading to a spate of memes on that theme:

Just one example playing on the theme/meme.

The recent MoodleMoot global conference helped highlight this to me – here we had a tool (Moodle) that critics (myself included in the past) would describe as struggling to move past its c.2003 functionality and user interface. However, many presenters were focused on their personal success of switching to online (I personally really find the “pivot” phrase odd/annoying) or offering tips for ‘newbies’ in this area. This brings to mind the often used quote:

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson

The challenge here is not just that digital transformation will naturally mean different things to different people also that a “webinar” will mean different things depending on the organising body, presenter, purpose, etc.

This confuses the picture, as picked up recently by Jane Hart in a tweet poll over what “e-learning” may (or may not) mean today:

Personally, I would say eLearning has become synonymous with “click next” slide-style content. The result being that “online” learning became the norm and then “digital” to capture changes for learning via mobile, VR, etc. However, whilst the differences remain, and old conversations (e.g. what is e-learning? is the VLE dead? etc.) continue, it is increasingly difficult to see where real innovation in the learning sector is given many orgs are now having “transformational pivots”.