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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

Adobe Education Summit 2015

Back in November I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Adobe Education Summit.  I must admit it is a while since I have really used an Adobe product, beyond the obvious freebie ones and Connect, so I really just wanted to see what was happening with their suite of tools.  Indeed, in the past, Photoshop and Dreamweaver were two of my most used tools, in fact I used to support art students in developing their capability in those tools.  The focus on the day being largely being on the more artistic tools in Adobe’s suite, i.e. the Creative Cloud.

The event was the second held in the UK and was made up, as tends to be the way, between some official corporate messaging, user demos and thought leadership.  The event was also, to an extent, a celebration of 25 years of Photoshop – a pretty amazing fact in-itself considering the way tech has changed in that time.

Adobe keynote

This looked at some of the big trends they seeing from a generational, digital transformation and education sector perspective.  Nothing too much new in what was discussed but they did stress the rise of the Chief Marketing Officer in (higher) education and the impact competition and student demand is having.  On the marketing front, the Adobe ‘Marketing Cloud’ empowers schools and companies.

In terms of learning outcomes there was a mention for Tony Wagner’s more transferable skills (aka survival skills) vs student demand to see clearly what the tangible skills they will get from their studies.  There are clearly some crossovers here to capability education and assessment models that offer alternatives to the 1st/2nd/3rd model.  Interestingly, Adobe are hiring on demonstration of transferable skills – the technical expertise can, they argue, be taught in house.  With my L&D hat on this was obviously interesting to hear.

There were some interesting stats thrown in around the way, for example 72% of students surveyed wanted to be able to look at study options and information to help choose schools on their mobile.  Adobe’s positioning through the student life-cycle looking to help with:

Attract > Engage > Empower

Within engage, they have performed multiple activities, including working with universities on interactive books and mobile apps.  Meanwhile tools like the ‘Document Cloud’ can help organizations with their operations (including the digitization of forms).

Some organizational uses of Creative Cloud were considered, for example Uber’s phenomenal growth has been powered by ‘Creative Sync’ where head office can retain control over core marketing assets centrally, with different countries able to make use of them.  The advantage being that any updates at HQ will automatically filter through to the websites.  In the education space there was a look at Clemson Uni in the US who have taken the approach of “creativity as a competitive differentiator”, with digital creativity embedded across curricula and the whole organization (seemingly) working to this end.  Some of the tangible ways this has impacted have included library space being handed over to students for video production and other products.  Indeed students are expected to product an ePortfolio as a concrete piece of evidence beyond their resume.

I must admit that I had largely heard of a decline in use of Creative Cloud due to cost issues, however, growth numbers are apparently strong.  Perhaps I need to look again!  The ‘Digital Publishing Suite’ certainly looked an easy way to create mobile apps (no coding).

Finally there were plugs for the peer support available via the ‘Adobe Education Exchange’ and the value in some of the certifications available.

Adobe demos

There were a few main messages from these:

  1. no longer just about desktop, more and more about cool mobile apps
  2. increasingly about to work on a project across device and switching between apps
  3. mobile apps aiming to be fun and easy but with real utility, especially when combined with desktop

The main apps to catch my attention:

  1. CaptureCC: capture traditional media for digital work (i.e. hand drawn to vector), a little like OfficeLens for creative types 😉
  2. Premiere Clip: video stories
  3. Comp CC: create a rough sketch of web layouts, creates styled widgets and then can populate with digital assets later.  Those assets can come from elsewhere in your creative cloud so you can have a central store.  Effectively this seemed to produce a drag and drop web authoring environment when combined with Muse but you can also send you layout to InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator.  I thought this was interesting in that it is a ‘creative’ solution to producing digital content in the same way that the eLearning industry have gone and produced their own tools (Articulate, etc) rather than there being a ‘go to’ HTML5 authoring tool.
  4. Slate: presentations in browser or app.
  5. Photoshop Sketch: not that I’m ever likely to be doing any drawing but the timeline feature is really nice.  You can effectively branch a project from a base to create multiple different images or finishes from a standard starting point.
  6. Photoshop fix: use the healing tool on the go!  The demo showed how you could use the ‘face tool’ to make the Mona Lisa smile!!

Guest speakers

Sarah J Coleman (aka inkymole illustration) and David Butler (VP of Innovation at The Coca-Cola Company)

Sarah’s talk was most of interest to me in just seeing her mindset around digital tools, she uses traditional and digital media.  However, there are some things she is known for (such as chalk-style effects) that she has only ever done digitally.  It was also interesting to hear how her digital approach has changed over time, she was apparently a big user of MySpace for self promotion!  There were certainly some lessons for those, such as me, considering the talk from a ‘learning’ perspective – not least “It’s OK to bugger things up as long as you had a go” (the kind of message that of course comes up a lot when thinking about learning cultures!).  She has worked with others to produce a film, “Stupid Enough“, aiming to provide better advice to aspiring creatives from the likes of Gareth Edwards.

I had to leave before the end of the Coca-Cola presentation but it was looking how ‘design thinking’ has changed their business.  From one which took decades to change or introduce new products it is now much more flexible and a “design driven company”.  I particularly liked the point that we are now all designers and our organizations need to work to get us designing better.  I’d argue we can see some bigger trends around this, if we thinking of data presentation (including infographics) the need to have an ‘eye’ for design is increasingly important (he says somewhat ironically considering the basic design I have opted for with this site).  His approach to design being:

explore > simplify/standardize/integrate > scale

Within the above, you can design for agility by having fixed elements (like the coke ingredients) and recognize the flexible pieces (new productions, sizes, packaging, etc).  For Coca-Cola this has led to three new billion-dollar juice brands in the last five years and increased growth in emerging markets (where the core product is fixed but distribution/sales models can be seen as the flexible elements).

Educators’ presentations

A number of presentations, I had to take a few calls during these so did not see them all but they included:

  1. rllearning.com: presenter has worked with teachers at his school to digitize curriculum.  He is also a Lynda.com author to help a wider audience, including students so they can help themselves.  Justification for all of this was to “help changes lives!”.  A very passionate speaker!  It seemed like a lot was done via publishing to the ‘Adobe Content Viewer’ app.
  2. tipsquirrel.com: presenter focused on why he has students actively using their mobiles [yes it seems there is still a debate on if phones should be left on or not!]  There was a lot of basic stuff on phone management in the room [the nicest idea was that they have phone breaks every 20 mins which also doubles up as a ‘brain break’].  The more interesting bit was how some apps are being used in the curriculum and by students, he mentioned: Capture, PhotoShop Light-room, PS Mix, PS Fix and Instagram for Photography.  Cross-subject apps included Slate, Adobe Voice, NearPod, Edmodo and RefME.

 

Virtual Free Schools

I’ve mentioned previously, on this site and old blogs, my belief that we need to be look differently at schooling going forward.  Continuing with traditional school models is an option but we also need to look to offer children and their parents new options.  Online options could potentially be cheaper for the state and more appropriate for the learner.

I have done a bit more research around the topic of late – including noticing this article from 2006.  Yep, the benefits were clearly articulated in a BBC article…in 2006!  Indeed Ofsted have reported on benefits too

Now, I know there are virtual school providers in the UK.  However, they remain largely private (fee charging) or for those children outside of the mainstream system (for example those who are vulnerable and in care).  I previously asked the New Schools Network back in 2011 if state funded Virtual Schools were emerging thanks to the changes of regulation resulting in Free Schools (it surprised me this week when I realized that email conversation was 3 years ago!).  Their reply at the time:

We would agree that at present the Free Schools policy and application process are not particularly tailored for this type of school, but we have talked to the DfE and they are receptive to proposals for virtual schools.

So when I reached out this week to NSN and on LinkedIn to a Free Schools group it was good to get one solid reply that work is underway.  In fact I offered my assistance, if I can offer any, as I really believe we need to consider online learning as opposed to the postcode lottery of existing provision.

Not to say that traditional schools are not investigating the possibilities, for example with this director of eLearning post currently advertised.

Anyway – I’m going to keep this Google Drive presentation up-to-date with a vision for an online school, if I ever have the time perhaps I will look to investigate it more.  However, having read Toby Young’s guide to setting up a free school, I doubt I will ever have the time needed to fully support the launch of such a school.