Monday, 25 November 2013

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?

You better close your ears if you work in IT because you probably won't like this concept; I'm all for taking the complexity out of what we do.  If you're a fan of the knowledge is power school of thought then move on, this won't work for you.  Working in Learning Technologies does not actually give you an immediate right to ramp up the complexity to make others feel they don't belong, further there's actually a responsibility to do quite the reverse.

Once upon a time anything remotely IT needed to be fiercely guarded as a secret.  We can relate to this in the training and L&D fields because the traditional 'teacher' role was somewhat like this.  The teacher was the holder of knowledge and generously shared little bits of this with students who then became enlightened gradually over time.  If you rebelled at all against the teacher then the knowledge was withheld and you were left behind.  Teachers were very much the owners of their own world and the knowledge was the key to the power, after all how could you teach when students could know what you know?  Or perish the thought what if they actually knew more about certain things?

The funny thing is, the evolution of the internet (to web and then cloud perhaps?) has followed a similar way.  Once upon a time you went on to the internet to find something out from a certified expert who was never wrong.  It really was a one way push of information, the only revolution was the size and scale of the environment.  My first 'wow' moment came on the internet when talking in a teaching chat room in the early 90s (yes it was around then); it was the 'interaction' between myself and someone thousands of miles (yes, pre-kilometer days) away and sharing of ideas that really showed the potential of the internet.  Later, we grasped this concept with the birth of web 2.0 - just a nice way of saying that the internet was no longer a one-way street to learning.  The internet is now less of an information store (although of course it stores more than ever before) it's now somewhere we can all contribute because no one person knows everything and everyone brings something to the table.  That's the same with learning all-round of course, no single person can hold all the knowledge or have had all the experiences that others can learn from.  Good teachers don't have one-way conversations with their students, good e-learning isn't just clicking and reading; it's all about the collaboration and sharing.

So if it's all about the collaboration and sharing then we all need to be able to communicate in both directions.  That means removing as many barriers as we can and language is one of those.  Yes, you can chat with users from other non-English speaking countries (hey, you can even translate my blog if you want to) through the web and tools that exist, but it's more than just the strict use of language, it's the nuances and the abbreviations that are often used to keep a layer of mystique or to separate those that know from those that don't.  Sound familiar?  I'm ex-Navy, I remember before I joined the Navy hearing Navy people speak to each other was entertaining - the words were familiar but they made little sense in what is colloquially known as "Jack Speak".  Of course you throw in to the mix a record number of TLAs (three letter abbreviations of course!) and you have a new language.  The danger of course is that when you speak with non-Navy folk that they simply don't get what you're trying to say or the message you're putting across (or perhaps more dangerously, they think they do but get the wrong meaning).  In the world of technologies this means keeping things at a level of simplicity that most trainers and L&D folks are comfortable with.

Learning Technologies combines both elements of the technical - IT and learning.  So it's doubly important that we talk in language that makes sense to both those not in the learning world, those not in the IT world and those on a totally different world altogether (oh yes, there are a fair few of those too).  What I'm trying to encourage here is that if you work in learning technologies, then try and talk to people in way they can grasp.  There's an old adage that states if you can't explain something in simple terms you don't understand it well enough.  Maybe that's the key, understand your own world in the simplest terms and then you'll probably find your understanding is actually increased. 

Finally if you want to talk to someone who understands you, then speak in a language that others understand.  Of course if you want to hold the knowledge, then do as you will, but don't be surprised if it turns out you don't know as much as those that wanted to learn from you in the earn.

Friday, 8 November 2013

What is Pervasive Learning?

Steve Rayson the General Manager for City and Guilds Kineo (Kineo Pacific is part of the group) was in Wellington today delivering an interesting and engaging presentation breakfast on emerging trends in e-learning, luckily for me I was able to attend and get some learning insights from the session (of course it would have been even luckier if I hadn't had to get up at 4.30am in order to make it there!).  There was some really good and interesting points around the way social learning was taking us and how we could leverage that in our work with learners, but the phrase that really stuck with me was pervasive learning.  So now I'm sitting on my flight back to the big smoke and thinking about how that connects to our learning and what we do.

Whilst giving credit to Charles Jenning's 70/20/10 rule and the more recent 33/33/33 rule, it's clear if nothing else that pervasive learning is probably a better way of putting it.  There's no really easy way to measure how much of learning is truly informal as most informal learning is so informal that most of it goes unmeasured, I'll probably get sued for saying this but I suspect 70% is more a gut feel than anything scientific, but the key point is that whether it's 33% (yes, I wondered where the 1% went too) or 70% of learning that's informal, learning goes beyond what we learn in the classroom or on our online module; it's pervasive - it's everywhere and we simply never stop learning.  If I wanted to define Pervasive Learning in its simplest way I would say it's that learning is in everything we do.  An old colleague of mine in the Navy used to say 'everyday is a school day' as a twist on 'you learn something new everyday'; maybe it's more like you are a learning machine and you learn constantly whether you want to or not - constant learning maybe.

I know lots of people out there hate the term 'learners' and prefer to think of staff or users, after all learning is something of a misnomer in many ways and what people learn or don't learn can be difficult to measure and account for at the best of times, but perhaps if learning is pervasive so are learners.  That doesn't mean that you're suddenly not safe from your learners showing up in the middle of the night at your door (disclaimer: you may not be, I don't know who've you upset, I was talking generally) but that essentially we are all learners in just about everything we do.  Once you start thinking like that, it means that rather than limiting your opportunity to deliver learning in the 10% world you just gained immediate access to the larger share.

So given there's a lot of potential to this extra learning opportunity, the obvious question is how do we go about delivering in this space?  Since pervasive learning is about the way we learn beyond the formal learning, we need to embrace a solution that goes beyond the formal environment traditionally used in training.  One of the biggest keys to succeeding in this space is being able to provide the environment for learners to learn beyond what the formal training has delivered.  Think of this if you will as the university of life.  I went to university (hard to believe I know) and learned a lot, but I learned a lot about life, relationships, learning itself, beer and some physics and computing thrown in for luck (yes, I studied some geeky stuff back then).  Even younger education and high school, the children learn all about key subjects like sciences, language and mathematics, but they also learn far more about society, conformity and humanity.  Good schools and universities provide the right environment for this to occur.  I've taught in some good schools and some that weren't so good and the key difference wasn't actually the pupils or the teachers, it was the environment.  You need to accept that social learning isn't a gimmicky thing that we do on computers, it's the way we actually learn - it's just learning from and with others and why wouldn't you want that to occur?

Creating the right environment for learning is actually not just a nice to have, it's essential if you want your learning to be pervasive.  Just how do you go about achieving this?  Well, the answer is in the total environment of course, that means learning spaces that are conducive to good learning, but from an 'e' perspective you can achieve this through the use of social media tools and opening up your system somewhat.  If you're organisation has a block on LinkedIn, YouTube, Google +, Twitter and Facebook then you may have to look at other ways of achieving this.  Your LMS may have social learning tools built in, start thinking more about those tools as setting your environment - forums don't necessarily have to be strictly controlled or assessable - they can work very nicely as a social sharing environment.  You could also look beyond your LMS and consider a social learning platform like the excellent Mahara (Open Source) that plugs nicely into Totara LMS I might add!  Whereas an LMS tends to be organisation centric, a social learning platform is more learner centred and that's pretty much the key to pervasive learning.  If your system tends to allow the sites I mentioned above through then rather than trying to discourage their use you could provide a gateway to them with suggested areas of interest.  In fact you could use your forums to discuss good areas and that in itself will open up for others to make suggestions too.

How will we track this more pervasive form of learning?  Another blog and another time but analytics are going to play a part :)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Losing and Winning with Technology

In my role a bit of travel is necessary and often that means a quick trip across the Tasman like last Friday where I was working with the excellent people at Toll Group on their Totara LMS upgrade and launch.  The day started early - a 6.30am flight usually means a 3.30am get up and that may not be the strongest point of my day!  Anyway, when you get to the airport and find out the 'computer's down' it's usually a bad sign and Friday was no different.  I was there early and skipped through (the advantage of frequent flyers) without too much hassle but the queue was already backing up and needless to say the flight got delayed two hours.

A great meeting (albeit with a slightly delayed start) was derailed slightly (another mixing of transport metaphors) upon leaving the taxi.  I left the taxi but my iPhone 5 did not.  Instead it decided to continue to circle around Melbourne before going permanently into a state of hiding that I have little hope it will come out of.  Amazingly I still managed to check in and (after another delay of course) got my flight and eventually got home a mere 22 hours or so after I started.  The reliance on technology for both airlines and business users has become immense - but even in the face of delays and frustrations I have to ask is this a bad thing?

Firstly, the 'manual way' of checking every passenger on to a flight is extremely time consuming and this was clearly proved on Friday for me.  To get everyone through in the same amount of time as normal would have taken about three times as many staff.  In this sense the technology to achieve this wins hands down, but it does emphasise one of the ways in which we win or lose in technology; have a backup.  This isn't just for technology of course, but in the learning technology world it pays to plan for the worst and hope for the best and not just rely on lady luck.  For example, if I'm giving a keynote or presenting I'll have more than one delivery method raring to go - so perhaps your learning has the same type of fall back.  One way we achieve this with an LMS is to make sure that we only host with top notch providers like Catalyst IT or Andragogic - their systems 'go down' like everyone elses but they always have backups, redundancy and the type of 'up-time' that doesn't leave you stranded.

My phone was a different kind of loss though.  My initial reaction was one of panic that I suggest most modern smartphone users can relate to - we have come to rely on them so heavily for everything from my Air New Zealand mPass ap (no the flight out was with another airline I'll not mention... although you'd think it was their first time) to my calendar, email, Skype and even notes.  The great news was that I sat down and opened my MacBook Air (yes, bit of an Apple fan, you can substitute some Android and even Windows type thing if it works for you) and went online and things started to get better.  I click on the 'find my iphone' ap and I'm already registering it lost with the appropriate notifications if someone's daft enough to try and use it.  I make phone calls through Skype to the police, taxi company and boss!  I can even send text messages on the phone that is no longer in my possession (iMessage).  I tell Telecom to bar my phone (although the security on it should do that anyway) and I'm already feeling a bit more in control.

The next day I grab a new sim card for the paltry sum of $5 and slip it into my old iPhone 4 (yeah, that hurt a bit) and connect to my computer and restore what my phone was like give or take a faster processor and a bit more screen size!  Okay two more phone calls to Telecom to help them understand their own un-barring process and here I am fully back up and running and waiting for the okay to buy the latest model to replace the one I gifted someone else.

The point?  Again it's not just the initial reliance on technology at play here, but the technology that I lost as easily as I could have lost any personal organiser (remember the Filofax?) was essentially replaced almost immediately.  Again it's a backup plan - don't put all your eggs in one technological basket and risk a scrambled mess.  Ideally you'll have other forms of communication that will allow you to overcome loss of your phone and notify people, but what about system issues or learning objects that won't work?  I like the way in Totara I can let people in 'courses' know what's going on, backup and restore data and even get time machine working (another technological error earlier in the year) on the database to bring me back to where I was.

Don't underestimate the usefulness of Cloud based computing either.  Once upon a time if your computer crashed or your floppy drive (yay, remember them!) corrupted you felt damn near suicidal - now there's almost no excuses for relying on the hardware in your office/home.  I use Cloud based back-ups and sync to make sure that the notes I was making in Friday's meeting on both computer and phone could be retrieved not only from them, but any internet ready machine with the passwords.  One of my personal favourite tools is the ever-so-simple Evernote - but I also like simple cloud based storage like Box or Dropbox.  I use Box (the company says so) with a background sync - what that means in simple terms is I save everything locally and then it saves it in the cloud for me.  That way I get the best of both worlds in a system that has everything immediately at hand and doesn't rely on internet connection when I'm out and about, but keeps everything safe and up-to-date.

Bringing this all back to learning and the advantages of having your LMS cloud based are obvious.  Client-end LMS's are hopefully fairly well done for as they simply place too much reliance on physically being in a certain place (and that's kind of against what an LMS is for isn't it?).  But saying your LMS is cloud based is only half the story - your content should be too - and if your servers have redundancy built in you'll be able to access learning even when the worst occurs.

Now... at least I see the 5s is out now :)