Why I tweeted this week about eLearning tools

This week I reach out on Twitter and LinkedIn for help finding a free authoring tool. 

This was spurred on by a bit of research and the realization that most tools on lists such as:

are either no longer available, very limited when offering a ‘free’/lite version (often just PowerPoint conversion which has been superseded by Office itself) or, well, just a bit rubbish. 

So I decided to reach out on Twitter and LinkedIn to see if any free tools are out there.  Even if not free, I was hoping that they may be free for K-12/school use, in the way Tableau, The Financial Times and many other organizations make their tools/content available to hook people in at school/university level.

Tools used in the past still available?

Now, I was aware of Xerte and LAMS but wanted to avoid a desktop install tool, the same going for things like Microsoft LCDS which I’d also played around with in the past (although LCDS probably does not exist any more?). 

I reregistered for h5p.org but that is a public only platform when using the free version. 

I was also steering clear of anything built mobile app first – instead I needed something browser-based for PC/Mac. 

I had also previously used tools like iSpring and Easy Generator, however, the Easy Generator free version is longer available. 

So why am I looking at this anyway? 

Well, to be honest, content creation for consumption.  In many ways going against my own preferred practice, such as that stated in this tweet:

https://twitter.com/iangardnergb/status/1169550514410917888

Indeed I commented elsewhere on LinkedIn this week (in a conversation about SCORM based eLearning) that surely SCORM was first and foremost about interoperability, then tracking and learners actually learning way down the list.  In other words, SCORM (like many learning management systems) were designed for the learning managers not the learners.

Authoring combined with hosting

There are some free authoring platforms out there still but, from what I could tell, they are like https://eliademy.com/ and linked to the hosting of the finished product on the same platform – effectively handing your IP over for the reward of having an online experience. 

A sign SCORM is finally going?

There are also a lot of shades of grey as we move away from SCORM being the defacto standard towards tools with an AR, eBook or other focus. 

One interesting platform seems to be https://derbyware.com/ where you can publish quizzes, these can be embedded on your own site and password protected if you were to want to use them in your own sessions.  You could potentially combine this with Office365 elements to build an LMS without an LMS – unless you want to host trackable SCORM files of course!

Live ‘eLearning’

This differs to some of the live presentation software which, perhaps spooked by MS Teams and other things, do offer fairly comprehensive free options (such as Hypersay) or free licenses for education (such as Zeetings).

Just as an aside to finish, at least GoMo, Articulate, eLAT and others do provide free trials.

What every Learning and Development professional needs to know about the International Baccalaureate (IB)

Having just recently started to work on IB programmes I have been really impressed, from a learning design perspective, with the intentions of the IB Middle Years (UK equivalent up-to GCSE) and Diploma (UK 6th form/A-Levels) qualifications.

A lot of what I have found interesting I’m going to share here – particularly for a Learning and Development (L&D) audience – as the growth of the IB has not really been recognised in my experience of the L&D profession. This might be as the IB has been historically ‘niche’ and for wealthy children in certain hubs of international business. However, there has been considerable growth in IB Schools since the year 2000 (see these slides for example). As these programmes grow in popularity (which is likely to continue with increasing globalisation) there will be potential implications in how we (companies and particularly L&D teams) encourage people to develop in the workplace…

Some Background:

IB mission statement

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

The IB Learner Profile

The IB includes a ‘learner profile’, akin to the kind of attribute/value set most L&D teams will be reinforcing at organisational levels. The profile aims to develop learners who are:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

Approaches to teaching and learning (ATL)

Perhaps more directly related to learning (and development) are the ATL. These are quite complex and have become increasingly important of late (see this blog for more). In many ways the ATL and learner profile encourage the kind of reflection and self-directed, lifelong, learning that L&D teams have long pushed for. The challenge for IB teachers with the ATL can seem similar to concerns L&D has faced, as Dianne McKenzie puts it on that blog post:

Why is…[embedding the ATL] such a hard thing? Is it because it has never been a priority? Is it because content has been king, with good pedagogy and skills coming in as the poor cousin?

http://librarygrits.blogspot.com/2015/05/repackaging-skills.html

As well as my previous experience in workplace learning these issues also ring a lot of bells for those who work in higher education. Indeed skills over content was a focus of an undergraduate module I supported and presented on a while back – yet Higher Education continues to be criticised as not fit for purpose by employers and other groups.

Similarly the Ways of Knowing and wider Theory of Knowledge attempts to install what feels like a detailed consideration of learning in students (and their educators):

language
sense perception
emotion
reason
imagination
faith
intuition
memory

Ways of Knowing

At what stage to develop all of this?

Personally, I suspect I’m not alone in getting to some of this level of self-understanding (around attributes like those in the learner profile) later than the IB age range at university and beyond. Indeed a recent alumni newsletter from one of my universities summed this up nicely:

My time at university taught me that your rewards are directly proportional to the effort you put in during your studies…
have a commitment to lifelong learning – never stop reading and actively keep up-to-date with your industry, following any changes and innovations.

Richard Robinson … Managing Director of holiday villa specialist, Sun-hat Villas & Resorts

The suggestion from the IB would seem to be that successful programmes would bring this through to school levels.

Therefore as well as L&D teams, university instructional design would do well to treat IB undergrads differently. The extensive Extended Essay research project of the diploma, for example, teaches many of the skills that libraries and universities spend time on in the first year of study.

So what might IB graduates expect of L&D teams?

If IB graduates are truly reflective, they should soon realise that ‘learning is work and work is learning’. So how might the IB graduates of the future understand the role of L&D if they are (even more than people in the past) used to managing their own learning?

Well, the IB’s definition of the school library is not far removed from L&D’s desire to shift to multi-modal facilitation of performance improvement:

The IB definition of a library is designed to focus on maximising its effectiveness: “Libraries” are combinations of people, places, collections and services that aid and extend learning and teaching.

Ideal libraries: A guide for schools (International Baccalaureate)

Indeed the role of the IB library is to support many areas that L&D professionals talk about for the workplace:

1. Curating

2. Caretaking

3. Catalyzing

4. Connecting

5. Co-creating

6. Challenging

7. +1 Catering

Six practices that energize learning and inquiry, and one that tends not to (from ‘Ideal libraries’).

All of the above will sound similar to the role L&D performs in many organisations, or at least try to carve out for themselves. Indeed the +1 to avoid (Catering) relates to just doing what the organisation wishes – or the classic, much maligned, L&D ‘order taker’.

The IB programmes also encourage inquiry within students in a number of ways that L&D pros often discuss as things they try to facilitate (with mixed success) in adults:

Social and emotional learning: relating to the growth and personal development of learners, and by extension the school community.

Service learning: relating to the knowledge and wisdom gained through serving the community.

Experiential learning: relating to what is learned through experience, experimentation, and reflection upon both (specific to the Diploma Programme [DP]).

Play: relating to the use of different forms of play and games, and reflection on the process and outcomes of them (specific to the Primary Years Programme [PYP]).

Ideal libraries (again).

With regards to the above, the IB’s Ideal Libraries report considers the resource centre as a form of conduit for learning, relating to the above forms of learning in addition to the dreaded (in some L&D circles) c-word – no, not that one…this:

Curriculum: relating directly to the content teachers are responsible to facilitate, and for students to learn. Research is a form of inquiry, and commonly associated with the curriculum.

Ideal libraries (again).

Therefore, an IB graduate might actually be more demanding of L&D than a ‘traditional’ school/university graduate as they are used to personalised support and facilitation of their own development from others (primarily teachers and ‘librarians’) whilst exposed directly to learning theory and concepts in ways others may not have been.

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

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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.

Avoiding cynicism during tradeshow season

This week and next I’ll be doing my usual pilgrimages to the BETT and Learning Technologies exhibitions.  Some of my notes from previous years are on this site (BETT16; BETT14; LT16; LT15; LT14).

On reflecting about what I want to get out of these shows this year I realised the growing levels of cynicism in my previous reviews.

I then read Laura Overton’s mind shifts for 2017 piece and realized that it is perhaps as I’ve just now just been around a while!  Obviously I don’t hold Laura’s level of experience but her fourth point resonated:

I’ve been going since it started years ago and it is great to catch up with old friends. However it’s a time when cynicism can abound, particularly with those who have been around a bit.

After all, we’ve been talking about how the latest tech will change the world, about performance, the need to get managers on board, to communicate more for decades.

These are not new ideas but our cynicism and fixed mindset thinking kicks in when we believe we see no change.

Whilst the concept of disruption is all the rage right now in L&D, fundamentally we need to apply the idea of radically transforming the norm to our own thinking, especially our cynicism. A growth mindset will ask – why no change? Was it that the time wasn’t right? Is the time right now? What can I do to make a difference now?

One weakness I have is that I perhaps do not take enough positive feeling from the change and impact I’m having – instead frustrated by the slow pace (or lack of) clear change.  Rather than just thinking “yeah, heard this before” I’m keen, this year, to get more out of the events:

  1. Get a feel for what may be possible from BETT – 3D/VR/AR are of real interest to me at the time being as the practical skills in my workplace would lend themselves to these types of technologies – making virtual learning far more real whilst maintaining a safe learning environment (well VR would at least).  If Microsoft don’t have a Hololens, to try their take on AR, I’m going to be disappointed.
  2. More generally BETT should be a good opportunity to get a feel for what is happening in schools – as I’ve argued before: an understanding of this is essential for workplace learning pros who want to build suitable inductions and optimize future readiness.
  3. At Learning Tech I’m going to be more of a ‘guide’ as I’m taking my head of department to the show and she will be a ‘newbie’.  As we have a meeting in the morning we’re likely to be restricted to about half a day in the exhibition so I suspect it will be something of a whistle-stop tour – that should be good as it will stop me listening to as many of the free presentations.  I think last year, in-particular, a number of those sounded like broken records.  It should be a great opportunity to drive home some key messages and some of the things I keep banging on about…

and on that last point – Laura’s 6th point (“believe in yourself”) is another worth reflecting on.  This time last year I was looking for work and was increasingly frustrated – both with (only some it has to be said) agencies (due to lack of contact/followups/etc) and with conversations/interviews where I felt I could contribute to an organisation but the recruitment processes were frustrating or annoying.  Thankfully I’ve found an organisation where my skills and experience are a good fit – now just to avoid the cynicism and keep on driving on performance improvement and employee empowerment!