First thoughts on the “UK EdTech Strategy”

I’ve seen quite a lot of comments on Twitter about the lack of ‘learning’ focus in the UK’s announced EdTech Strategy.

Well, I finally got chance to look at the announcement today, some thoughts below:

  1. Productivity. One of my drivers in work is a dislike for waste and inefficiency. Therefore, I’m glad to see the focus on cutting teacher workloads. I’ve long argued that schools and (other public-purse funded) education institutions fail to drive enough efficiency in areas such as the below (all of which it would be nice to think are ‘in scope’):
    1. Shared resources – why does every teacher either build their own resources or buy from 3rd parties? If curriculum are comparable to exam standards then why not better sharing (and I do not mean for an individual teacher’s profit on sites like TES)?
    2. Manual marking – rather than switching to using automatic marking, question banks, adaptive content, etc.
    3. Expensive and wasteful school by school arrangements – for things like library licences, online learning environments, IT support, etc. The Teacher Vacancy Service has recognised the costs in recruitment, why not in other areas?
  2. 10million? Obviously this is a pretty minuscule drop in the ocean, especially given cuts to school budgets overall. Therefore, you suspect the approach needs to be to leverage existing tech better and spread practice from the likes of Microsoft education communities more widely. School funding cuts have gone to far but at the same time schools have not used tech for financial efficiency (as well as the kind of organisational productivity in point 1).
  3. Training/CPD for teachers. I recently commented on a popular education site saying the school sector desperately needs to move away from CPD=inset days to more continuous improvement. The problem is that teachers are timetabled to be in a set place at a set time teaching, with less flexibility for learning at work than many other professions. Sharing outcomes from the multitude of excellent informal learning that teachers undertake (Facebook groups, etc) that is not recognised widely currently would be a start. Sharing learning with other public sector bodies, such as the NHS and local councils would be even better. School’s are too often isolated in their communities as standalone institutions, failing to recognise that CPD and other areas is available via other companies’s CSR and other means.
  4. Tackling essay mills is obviously a worthy cause. Even better still would be better forms of assessment which were less reliant on essays in the first place.
  5. SEN supporting technology – this bit feels particularly where more cash might have been needed to make a real difference. That said, again, better sharing of practice would be a start – the promised ‘demonstrator schools and colleges’ might work as an approach to this in terms of developing communities and evidence based practice.
  6. The problem is too much tech? Anyone who goes to BETT (or is otherwise aware of the EdTech market) will probably wonder if we really need need more solutions in the identified areas such as “essay marking, formative assessment, parental engagement and timetabling technology”. What is really needed is the support in selection and implementation that JISC offers some of the target audience but BECTA used to for schools. BESA and LendED are mentioned in the statement for this kind of purpose but, of course, BESA and BECTA are quite different beasts.

Overall, no lack of good intent but a lot of work to do with little money. Consider, for scale, that assigned £10m versus the £146.2m JISC spent in 17/18.

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.

Learning and libraries: Will efforts to change always be Sisyphean?

A while back I tweeted challenging a view that L&D teams are still behind modern learner expectations:

Transformation is difficult in this world. For example, the need for libraries to be more open and engage with their communities exists – but a recent high-profile example shows the challenges. Whilst libraries may want to transform, do the users really want it? If the ‘customer’ does not want change then why are they trying it in the first place?

Here learning support services (such as L&D and library teams) have the challenge of trying to do what they think best versus non-domain expert/customer expectations. This is perhaps an effort that is so difficult, but needed, we have to recognise it is Sisyphean to some extent. One suspects it is an issue for all support staff? For example data protection pros slowly trying to improve practice, IT pros trying to get people to use tech better, etc. ??

Some reflections on learning from recent weeks in a new role

Not working directly in a workplace L&D team for a little while has been nice in some ways.

It has allowed me to reflect once more on the nature of learning and what we are trying to achieve via investments in ‘workplace learning’ teams and initiatives.

This time has only reinforced in mind the reality that everyone at work is learning, all the time.  Those of us who might consider ourselves as ‘learning pros’ are really only able to support this through appropriate infrastructures/scaffolds, interventions, etc.  At the same time trying to ensure, from an employee engagement perspective, that people feel valued and supported.

As I am working in formal education again (albeit now in the 2-18 age range which is mostly new to me) I’ve also gained new insights into what we really mean by ‘learning’, ‘performance improvement’, etc.  It is also clearer to me than ever that the idea school teachers are educators stuck in didactic formal learning (sage on stage/chalk n talk type stuff stymied from change) couldn’t be further from the truth.  This, in part, reinforces my old view about how stuck-up/presumptive a lot of the L&D industry’s focus is.  It also makes the case for more interaction between schools, colleges/universities and workplaces to better leverage technology and better understand what we are all trying to achieve (or “business needs to stop complaining about talent and do more with schools and apprenticeships” as I’ve put it in the past).

More thoughts will no doubt come out of these experiences in coming weeks – first up is a feeling…

Corporate change and the hamster wheel

…A feeling that workplace learning conversations, continue to be stuck like a hamster on a wheel.  This has been triggered by seeing some of the old workplace learning arguments coming up once again on social media in recent weeks and also from a quick flick through of “Beyond Knowledge Management: Dialogue, creativity and the corporate curriculum” which I’ve recently picked up (Bob Garvey and Bill Williamson, 2002 – BKM from here on).

BKM’s forward (by Rosemary Harrison) suggests the book is a “response to…turbulent competitive conditions” and considers/suggests how to tackle this via “the competencies and ethical issues involved in working in a continuous learning environment”.  Here we effectively see the L&D staple of VUCA vs the need for learning organisations to tackle such uncertainty and continuous change.  The point though is that this is from 2002, before VUCA became the standard descriptor.  Consider that with another recent excerpt I got from a book:

href=”https://twitter.com/iangardnergb/status/1092430958437883904″

The answer to the question in the tweet is 1975

The Hawleys were talking about the growing volume of media in the ’70s (TV, magazines, newspapers, etc.) but I thought the quote clearly felt contemporary in the ‘information overload due to the Internet’ era. 

Overall these examples show that, for decades, we’ve been talking about the same issues and really wasting effort in tackling them.  Another recent-ish tweet of mine considered how Mad Men picked up on this in showing that whilst some things have clearly changed, although in areas like racism perhaps not as much as we’d like to think, there are other aspects where the same conversations are happening ad nauseam.  The specific example in my tweet being the rise of the machines:

https://twitter.com/iangardnergb/status/1089955996607434752

That issue being particularly appropriate given that AI, automation and associated technologies are very much the vogue topics in 2019.

The difference in BKM’s title to the more modern conversations would perhaps be that the “corporate curriculum” has come and gone in preference to learning ‘in the workflow’ via increasingly bitesize and flexible provision.  That said, I can consider my own personal experiences in the interim years with global curriculum management (2012-2015) and redefining a UK learning curriculum from local practice to national and accredited (2016-2018).  Compare those six years to someone delivering a traditional curriculum, for example, a traditional ‘trainer’ doing the rounds and you hit the classic of “doing the same thing for six years is one year’s experience versus doing different things for six years is six years’ experience”.  Thus, we hit another L&D trap – an assumption that ‘in workflow’ is the way to go rather than more formalized approaches.  This is in part the snobbery I mentioned previously where white-collar knowledge work is all anyone does (to be fair, BKM is specifically considering issues stemming from the rise of knowledge workers).

Working in a school I’ve already made the point multiple times to pupils that time is the commodity they do not realize is most important.  They will come to realise this in the workplace, of course, but supporting the international baccalaureate is an eyeopener in the specific focus on what we mean by knowledge/learning and what the profile of a learner looks like.  I’d be tempted to say every L&D professional should familiarize themselves with this as, if you are hiring IB graduates, you should have a very different breed of new-hire than if not.  Certainly different than I was at 18 and probably still so after the extra academic skills and instruction of university to 21 and travel/reflection to 22.

So what about dealing with that VUCA world?  Well it was interesting to see the 20th anniversary comments on Office Space (http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190205-office-space-turns-20-how-the-film-changed-work) and the “Is this good for the company?” culture of the 90s versus the employee wellbeing and engagement culture that is increasing the case today.

One thing where we can be happy to stay on the wheel is in agreeing that learning is continuous, good for the organisation and good for the organisation’s people.

The inevitable Brexit post

This post isn’t really for a particular audience (I guess even less so than normal on this site!).

Indeed I’m hoping writing it may simply be cathartic. 

That all being said, I’ve also been asked regularly why the UK voted the way it did (yes, okay England and Wales voted the way they did) and, more recently, how it has made such a mess of things since the referendum. This has obviously all been covered elsewhere in various levels of detail (I’ve tried to avoid it on Twitter but did put some previous thoughts up there) but, as I say, I thought putting something down might be helpful for at least my own mind.  Nuance is the challenge here as in many ways Brexit is about a multitude of things yet, at the same time, inherently a reaction to badly managed change.

First up an admission

My pencil lingered over the Leave option.

Not for long, but there was a linger.

Now, I was very much in the Remain camp all the way up to the vote but there were a number of factors why I considered Leave on the day and some of those issues are still very much in play. However, a key reason I did vote Remain was that I thought it would be close, closer than the opinion polls on the day had suggested and when I saw two women leave the polling station basically saying to each other “there are too many of them we have to vote leave” (despite clearly not being of British Isles heritage themselves) I thought that Leave could well win.

It was clear in the run up to the vote that there was a generational divide and whilst the narrative since the vote is that old people have ‘robbed young people of their futures’ it should also be recognised that some sympathy should lie with those who have seen the original 1975 EC referendum result morph progressively into today’s globalised EU with representatives that the people feel do not represent them and on issues (like foreign affairs) that many feel the EU never needed to deal with. 

The referendum in the ’70s set a precedent that political parties have not followed through with in more recent changes to the EC/EU. Indeed one of the nightmares of the Brexit result is that it almost certainly has killed the desire for more referendums in Britain (due to the difficulty of putting complex questions into a poll-able vote) rather than encouraging more direct democracy where ‘the people’ would feel less distant from the ‘political classes’ (the role of representative and masses breaking down across the political spectrum).

The political (cl)ass

This bit is one area where it feels like the mainstream media continue to miss a trick, in part as they are too caught up in their own importance and the ‘Westminster bubble’.  The vote was, for some, two fingers up at the Cameron government.  For others it was two fingers up to the European elite for be unwilling to do more with regards to what Cameron wanted and other issues. However, whilst the media continues to focus on the impact of their own (predominately) anti-EU stance and the impact of Facebook advertising, etc. the reality is that the referendum campaign will have made no difference to voting intentions.  Most people will have known what they were voting well in advance – as shown by the fact the %s have not changed much in opinion polls since (even with post Brexit implementation showing Leave had no real plans and that the EU is now so all encompassing it is incredibly difficult to leave) .

The previous UK-wide referendum, on changes to the electoral system, increasingly feels like a missed opportunity.  That would have allowed for voices from UKIP, the Green and other parties to be heard to challenge the prevailing narratives in the media and the two main parties without giving Farage and others hero/outsider status.  Alas many people argued against vote form, not least because of the likely increase in coalitions and the inevitable politicking that follows.

Yet we have seen Theresa May and the DUP in effective coalition, going against both of May’s 2017 promises that there was no ‘magic money tree’ and that she offered ‘strong and stable’ government.  Ultimately it feels like a failure of the system and, in May, a cold and ineffective leader who has helped highlight the competence of previously derided predecessors such as John Major, Gordon Brown and ‘failures’ such as Ed Miliband. This thread is good on some of the crazy moments in the last 5 years of politics for quite how bizarre things have got.

The man who in many ways led the Brexit campaign was, though, Boris Johnson, already seen as an ass by many at the time of the Brexit bus tour his political failings are now transparent to many more people.  That he still holds apparent sway over many in the Conservative party shows a respect for arrogance (and admittedly some intellect) that laughs in the face of good government (considering his waste in the form of water cannon, London buses, ‘garden bridges’ and more). Of course the laughing at Boris, his fame created on Have I Got News For You as much as anywhere else, is nothing new. It is just more tragic now.

The EU’s arrogance

Britain of course isn’t alone in all of this.  Grexit for a long time looked like a real possibility whilst Italy and other nations have expressed their concerns. 

Alas, the face the EU has put in front of the cameras to deal with this challenge to the post WW2 order in Europe amounts to a line up of ‘pale, male and stale’ in Juncker, Barnier and Tusk.

Whilst Tusk has shown quite a generous touch of late (not least on Twitter) the EU has failed throughout from a public relations perspective. Juncker is a personification of the EU’s failings in the eyes of many, being from a small country given disproportion levels of representation. That he is adjudged to have aided ‘bad’ globalisation with generous tax arrangements for corporations in 20 years as Luxembourg Prime Minister (a period of power that would not even be allowed in many sovereign states) makes him a target for left wing Brexiters. On the right meanwhile, whilst his opposition to the likes of Nigel Farage has often been correct, it has also failed to recognise the reasons for UKIP’s support and the popularity of the anti-EU block in European elections across the continent.

The ‘left behind’ in society therefore feel they have seen little from the EU or globalisation that benefits them – the volume of areas receiving EU help funds but still voting Leave showing the lack of impact of the EU’s good work with regards to dealing with societal issues.

British arrogance

Part of the issues leading to Brexit has undoubtedly been legacy snobbishness over British quality and exceptionalism.

The supposed superiority of British banks, universities, etc. is often laughable in the face of evidence and advantages they did have are fast fading away such as:

  • language (English is now the business language in many organisations and cities worldwide, you do not need to be in London),
  • facilities (undermined by austerity and with only really Crossrail to aid London in the coming decade),
  • societal (violent crime and other issues up due to multiple issues including Brexit and austerity). 

In some ways this feels a little like a British version of late Byzantium – still referring to itself as Rome but in reality a collapsing power, still with lots of fancy gold and jewels on show in the capital but a shadow of its former (large/imperial) self – with even Parliament no longer able to keep up the pretext as the roof, literally, falls in.  If World War 2 and decolonialization were the ‘loss of the empire/west’ moment it feels like Brexit might be the sack of Constantinople by the Venetians (aka foreign interests funding Brexit giving what is left of the empire a good kicking under false pretext).  The UK will struggle on even with a No Deal scenario but independence for, at least, Northern Ireland and Scotland could prove to be the equivalent of 1453.

Of course mentioning 1453 might not be very helpful given that the vote against remaining in the EU was, in part, thanks to anti-Turkish sentiment.  Yep, folks, we’ve moved on a long way in 500 years… but not that far.

Foreign interests

Now we really get onto the nub of the matter.  Foreigners. 

Whatever anyone says, Brexit has been driven in large quarter by anti-immigration feeling (see my comment about the two ladies departing the polling station above). 

Britain’s seeming failure to deal with the latest wave of immigration (starting with riots against Portuguese people and then opposition to Poles, Bulgarians and more) is in part due to the drive for small government since Thatcher. Britain simply has not had the infrastructure to handle change management at the local level – and there are close links between immigration, crime and other issues in some areas. Even when very real issues like multiple occupied housing have been raised you suspect the will to enforce rules and laws simply doesn’t exist, in part due to lack of resources for the police and other agencies.

Britain has not put in place the rules around 90-days immigration that she could have, and you suspect it was in part due to the admin. An admin burden and cost now dwarfed by the huge expense of Brexit and ‘bringing back in-house’ functions from Brussels – or at least paying Kiwis and other consultants huge sums for consultancy to help Britain ‘go it alone’.

If then we acknowledge that this is about a complete failure of British society to absorb the latest wave(s) of immigration the question is why has this happened?  Well, immigration in the post war period was largely recognised as needed (see Italians rebuilding large parts of the country) or a pay-off from the empire/commonwealth (Windrush, etc.).  However, there are obviously still huge issues with racism (as visible in football recently) even when there was also a recognition of the part Indians, Africans and Antipodeans had played in both world wars. So perhaps it is simply a case of the volume combined with stagnant (or declining living standards). Indeed you suspect the Corbyn/left-wing view in support of Brexit would be protection of works and better wages – as unlikely as that seems with current problems.

The failure to deal with immigration and resulting change is not anything particularly new and of course not unique to the UK. President Trump (for example) has built on long standing issues with his ‘wall’t – as Limp Bizkit said:

“[be]Cause hate is all the world has ever seen lately “

Take a Look Around, Limp Bizkit (2000)

Lets not forget that immigration controls were one of the “Ed Stone’s” promises. This ongoing desire (and another reason for the Leave vote) remains a strong view of British jobs for British people – of course the issue there is time to align what skills we need: another thing not very well done and the positive of immigration has been that it has covered over the cracks. As someone who spent a week looking through trade union archives from c.1900 as part of his university degree, whilst we’ve come a long way (a lot of the union pamphlets were unbelievably racist to modern eyes) some of the sentiments from the early 21st century are very similar to the early 20th.

Of course the other foreign aspect that lingers large is if Russians (and/or others) have had their fingers in the pie to disrupt the EU/UK/etc. The fact the British political system can be so funded by one man’s £9m is surely wrong no matter what (never mind the apparent dodginess of all as shown in this German investigation). Whatever happens politics needs to change, from funding, house/expense rules, etc. Unfortunately Farage and others have the opportunity to express this in completely the wrong language, failing to remember Jo Cox’s memory and ignoring that the whole point is that we vote for them as representatives – it is not ‘them and us’.

What next then?

Personally it feels like voting reform needs to come back on the agenda, the House of Commons needs to move to a new location, the house rules need modernising (watching Brexit through the House of Commons and the modern EU voting systems really are chalk and cheese) and much more.

Politicians, i.e. the new PM when May finally goes, needs to acknowledge that societal and structural reforms in the post-Thatcher era have failed – with far more needing to be done to reduce wealth inequality between the richest and poorest. Changing these issues was what encouraged support for Corbyn in 2017, that so many people seem to have not realised his pro-Brexit approach to this shows how limited engagement with politics is. Thus the press and other media need to reengage in a more positive way, focused on issues/facts and not personality. That said, politics is complicated (I’m sure not all of this post will be correct), lots of people are confused by what the referendum was meant to be, mending wounds is going to be difficult (not helped by all the name calling), etc.

As for Brexit, a second referendum seems the only sensible way forward – ideally followed up by further votes and more direct democracy. With the run-up to any second vote needing to be far clearer on growth for the UK, with clear means to deal with the issues people feel are limited by immigration (pressure on the NHS, house prices, school places, crime, etc.) via an end to austerity.