Thursday, 10 December 2015

When is a learner not a learner?

Being in the 'learning' world I'm probably as guilty as the next for referring to people as learners, but it's time to set the record straight; learners is a misnomer at best and a wildly inaccurate term we really should stop using.

Firstly there's the theory of pervasive learning much like I shared in my last post (The Accidental Learner) if learning is something that's pervasive or ever present then being a learner is a given, we can easily replace learner with person and we're sorted.  Learners are just people and not a special type just because we label them as such.  If we have a course with people enrolled we tend to call them learners, but actually they're just people on the course, call them students if you will as that's a far more accurate term if we must further define someone on the course.  Call them participants if you must, but learners is a little misleading...

Secondly just because we get people to our learning material that does not guarantee that the desired learning has taken place. Yes yes, I know you're thinking learning objectives and valid testing will do this, but I'm not so sure it does at all.  The vast majority of summative testing is knowledge based (by now you may know of my opinions of knowledge and so we're often testing recall which is not the same as really learning something.  But even testing based on higher levels of taxonomy like synthesis is relative.  The testing takes place, achievement verified, but unless there's an ongoing way of measuring what's occurred, what's been learned for the test may not be 'retained'.  Learning is shaping rather than a discrete and measurable event and we're all learners if you will.

'Learners' with bad attitude are not learning (or at least not learning what we want them to learn).  If a learner with a bad attitude takes part in an activity, chances are they won't get the desired learnings from it.  If someone has an open and positive attitude and takes part in any activity (even one they're not scheduled for) the chances are they will get something from it.

Okay, the crux of the problem is not really the definition of learners but the definition of learning itself.  What is learning materials after all?  We expose people to resources and activities and they complete (or not) those.  A lot of what we do is training, some is education and teaching, a bit of instruction but calling it learning is dependent not on the teacher/trainer/instructor but the 'learner'.  We've become a bit PC with our definitions so we (self-included) tend to lazily opt for learning as a cover all.  If what we do is broadly 'learning' then what people taking part are is broadly 'learners' - but we should recognise that it's lazy, it's an approximation and often wrong. 

But all of that's okay actually.  I can live with learning and learners in their broadest sense, but what really drives me loopy is when we try and sub-categorise that to the nth degree. If we recognise and live with learning and learners as a broad term cool, but if we then invent new categories; self-directed learners, lifelong learners or even competent autonomous lifelong learners (for real today this was used in #pkmchat) to add accuracy to our inaccuracy it becomes silly.  It's like measuring a big distance with a 30cm ruler and then giving the answer to 4 decimal places.  The 'accuracy' is both misleading and... err.. inaccurate.

So people, learn and live, if you must call yourself learners do so (for what else would you be... breathers?) but don't define what type of learner you are beyond that, just recognise that alone is enough of an approximation.

Disagree? Cool, let me know... 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Accidental Learner - Shaping by Life

I always enjoy #pkmchat although I think it's ironic that one of my favourite chats is one where they use one of the words I have the biggest issues with in the learning world; that word is knowledge (pkm is personal knowledge management - a concept I chuckle at too truth be told). It was a funny discussion today listening to really intelligent people trying to work out what they intentionally 'forget' in order to get over the capacity issues of our brains.  What a daft concept when you think about it. Consciously trying to forget things to preserve 'memory' space.  The problem though, as I have regularly mentioned in the past, is that firstly knowledge isn't a thing, much less a simply quantifiable thing of set storage size.

I used the word 'shaping' today to talk about what knowledge effectively does.  Knowledge is an entirely relative thing; it's not something that's fixed and can be stored in the same way we store a physical thing like a CD or even data like an mp3. What knowledge actually is really only noticeable by its effects rather than the 'thing' itself.  If the analogy we were using above with music was extended, it would be like saying that the knowledge is the experience of listening to the music rather than the music itself. Maybe think of it as a live music event.  You can record and playback the event but it's not the same as the experience that you would have if you were there.  Furthermore the experience you would have when you were there would be different to somebody else and you can't bottle up that experience no matter how high the fidelity. Memory plays a part and listening to the same song streaming 10 years later will bring some of those feelings back, but again what has happened to you since will have an effect on that, your experience has been shaped by what you started with and what other things have happened to you on the way.

Forget knowledge, start thinking of learning.  Learning is the shaping process of our life; a combination of experience, knowledge (if I must), emotion, DNA and relationships.  We often use the analogy of a pool of knowledge, we need to replace that idea with a stream of learning.  The important thing is to not to try and catch the water because it's not the water that holds the value but the flow itself.  Nick (@technkl) today said we were the rock in the stream and I think there's some value in that.  We're not there to capture the water but to be shaped by it as it flows over and through us.  We can seek different streams but the thing that will make the biggest difference to us is the effect that stream has on us.  In other words if you want to change the shape, then you can only really change the rock.  What I mean by this is that it's your attitude that shapes the way you learn, far more than the stream you happen to be in.

One challenge I did get was that my way of seeing learning as a shaping brought upon by a number of factors was just what you might categorise as 'life'.  Well I can't disagree, many times you'll hear me say that learning is pervasive and you really can't separate learning from living as they are intertwined at the very least.  Just like our rock in the stream, life will happen, it's our attitude and the way we chose to act that shapes our learning and indeed ourselves.

So why the accidental learner? Well, the big thing is that whilst we may pick and choose the odd stream of learning we dive in to most of the time we're just living and if learning seems accidental that's no major surprise.  Again though, how we approach life and the things that happen to us will determine how much we learn and in turn what we get out of life along the way.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Enterprise systems and other prehistoric beasts

There's something quite impressive about the word enterprise. In it's literal (and noun) form we're talking about a whole of business or whole of organisation type event. Surely in the interest of working together and collaboration we should be aspiring for everything we do and all the systems we use to be 'enterprise'? Unfortunately there's also something of a dark side to enterprise systems; they tend to be big immovable beasts and in an era of technological acceleration that has some serious downside.  Let's look at what makes enterprise systems the 'wrong' choice for lots of organisations:

1) $$$$$$
If you invest thousands, tens of thousands and more in to your system it costs you in more ways than the simple financial way.  It's like joining a club and feeling like you have to go to get your money's worth. That's even worse if you've signed up to something that has you paying for the next 3 years.

2) Removal of Competition
There's a reason why laws exist to prevent monopolies being established and if you take on an enterprise system and immediately rule out all other competitors forever more you've just created one. That lock-in type approach means that you don't even bother looking at what else is going on and what new and innovative things are available and you end up being chained to your enterprise solution.

3) Customisations 
If you're the type of organisation that likes flexibility and a customised service then going down an enterprise route is a real rabbit hole. You make a solution to fit your needs at the time of implementation rather than looking closely at your own systems and methodologies and continuing to look for improvements there. In the long-term you end up with a beast that costs enormous amounts to upgrade and usually ends up growing more and more out of date.

4) We're a XYZ organisation
If you use this expression with words like Microsoft or Adobe then welcome to the world of vendor lock-in and inflexibility. Don't get me wrong, I regularly use products from both, but if your organisation is locked-in to a system then you are really limiting your ability to look at other technologies out there. If your IT dept uses the 'we're a XYZ organisation' type phrase then you want to avoid piling on another heavy system that limits your options. In fact if your IT department makes your system decisions then definitely steer away from making another decision which will dictate the options forever more.

5) We host our own systems in-house
The issues with in-house systems are many and varied. Firstly just because you can host something yourself doesn't mean you should or that you are able to at a high enough service to meet the demands of users.  Secondly you tend to be limited by the technologies you know (eg Linux or Windows based), thirdly you invest heavily into something you take care of yourself and are therefore more likely to resist moving away from it, there's the issues of accessibility, connecting systems etc etc etc. For me the most important thing though is the inefficiency of it. Sure hosting yourself can be cheaper if you're geared up for it, but the purchase and maintenance of the hardware to match the services you would get from a SaaS or Cloud provider often make it much more expensive. It also tends to push you towards an all-in-one solution, more on that next.

6) Firing the silver bullet
If you're looking for the one system that does everything to solve your problems as an organisation then welcome to the silver bullet solution trap. Let me let you into a secret; the silver bullet does not exist and if you buy one it's likely more akin to a white elephant than a silver bullet. All-in-one systems are generally about as useful as all-in-one outfits and the system you end up with is often not quite what you had in mind.  Even if it's an amazing solution for now, your needs will change and will the one system be able to change all its facets to meet your demands moving forwards. Just because you bought system A from a provider doesn't mean system B from the same provider will work as well for you or talk to A any better than someone else's system. 

In final my advice is to look and always look about what's coming and what you can leverage. Once upon a time all these tools were expensive and vendors tried desperately hard to lock you in so they could keep your custom. Nowadays there's a proliferation of SaaS and Cloud solutions that are available at a fraction of the fees to put an enterprise system in place so why limit yourself too quickly.

Of course I could be completely wrong - reply if you think so!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Circles, Groups, Networks, PLN and the value of independent thought

I've started and stopped this blog a few times which is most unlike me and goes against my general theory of blurting it out.  Point is though it's a very touchy subject for lots of people.  I'm really keen on lots of great initiatives like working out loud (WOL) and the power of building relationships and working with others whether in a personal learning network (PLN) or community of practice (COP) or whatever else buzzes along.  

In the true nature of my collaborative blog I'm going to pause here... come back to where I was going with it and add some more... I'm going to get to the points about some big issues in the week such as the horrific attacks in Paris and some of our reactions to that too and how they can be related to all of the above... in the meant time feel free to add comments as I build this up... apologies if you were expecting a completed blog right off the bat... here's what I started writing last week on a sort of linked subject that just didn't flow right:

"Lots has been made of Personal Learning Networks or PLNs in the age of Twitter - but do they really work and produce learning or are they just another buzz in the world of social media?  PLNs build on the idea of connecting people together; social learning rather than learning in isolation if you will. Thing is that whilst this sounds great, the forming of networks can feel really artificial at times - there are people it seems that make a perpetual living on the 'conference circuit' and it seems more business development orientated than based in learning. This leads me to the question when is a PLN about anything and everything but learning?

Connections are 'collected' as notches on the belt
How many friends do you have on Facebook and how many of them are really your friends? How many times have you done a 'cull' on the friends that aren't really? How many newsfeeds on social media have you muted as the person doesn't say anything that you have any great interest in?  Twitter, FB etc allow us to build a large network and build it quickly, but if you're just a notch on someone else's belt then what actual value does that present to you?  Thing is that a network is just like 'real' friends in that it takes work to make it effective, you need to interact and do it regularly if you're really going to get the most out of it.  Social media is full of people who collect connections but don't really value them at all.

Connections are one-way streets

This is similar to the one above but rather than a volume of connections, the danger is the usefulness of them. Are you simply using connections to get something out or others without contributing yourself? There are certainly lots of people doing exactly this

When it's about patting each other's backs"

So, more to come...

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Education needs to be about learning, not about teaching

As usual the blog post is in the air and, not that unusually so am I as I write this. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and maybe it’s because I’m back working in and around education but I have noticed a drift in the last few months towards a more philosophical me when it comes to blogging - I’m as passionate as ever about learning, but sometimes it seems that the things we face in the learning world are actually issues stretching beyond learning.  Of course, it may be that actually the converse is true and it’s learning that stretches beyond what we normally associate with learning - it certainly goes well beyond education and that’s something really important to remember :)

Anyway, enough of the preamble.  On my way to the nation’s capital (Wellington aye) and I’ve come up with a plan to change the face of education.  Now education is inherently full of very smart people, but it still seems grounded in the ideas of a teacher and students - smart people and those wishing to learn; those with the knowledge and those needing it.  Bunkum.  That model of learning is gone gone gone and needs to stay gone.  Learning is a journey that gets shaped by those around us.  Think about your own school days and what you learnt whilst you were there.  Now answer this; did you learn everything you needed directly from your teachers?  Or further, did they teach you everything about life?  About bulling?  About how society works?  About popularity?  About love?  About what success was and what it wasn’t?  How much of your subject-based education do you really use now?

Truth is, we desperately need to change our model of trying to teach or educate people in the way we’ve been doing.  Now I’m in adult education and not the education of children, but I have to say in so many ways teaching children seems to be ahead of teaching adults.  Take the environments.  A university has lecture theatres where masses sit patiently (and some even attentively) to the master, a polytechnic or college has a hybrid of lectures and classrooms (even to this day predominantly with desks facing the ‘front’), secondary schools tend to be more grouped and primary education has bright inspiring colours, small groups and a range of different activities going on.  Now we can convince ourselves that it’s about making it interesting for young children and that they have short attention spans and like lots of stimulus, but I find it hard to distinguish that from most adults, self included.  Furthermore a primary school teacher takes the lead across all the subjects a young student studies.  The school of thought (if you’ll excuse the pun) is that this is because they don’t need to be a very deep area in any one subject to be able to teach a wide-range of subjects at a low level; but actually again this model has some massive advantages when we start to apply it in the modern learning world.  Firstly they really know the children in their class and, as a consequence, the children become more attached to their teacher too.  The primary teacher naturally forms more of a guide bond than a subject matter expert - the children are learning so many things and the teacher is their trusted guide as they discover.

Let’s take primary principles and apply to higher education.  Is that my idea?  Yes and no.  I do think there’s lots to learn from the environment in particular, but also the guide and journey type model, but I think we need to recognise that adults do require some different stimuli to children.  No, my idea definitely involves those ‘modern learning environments’ that stimulate learning; they should have and project a kind of energy (yes, colourful, appealing, interesting), allow for group works of different size and shape, supported by technology; multi-user multi-display type screens all over the place (not just one big one at the front), very high quality ultra-fast wireless internet and soft furnishings (this one’s about noise).  But the environment of a successful learning place is not just about the physical environment, it’s also about the people.  Let’s remove all the teachers.  Let’s stop teaching altogether.  Let’s start learning, just at different levels.

The Un-university - and since un-un means we drop the un, I give you the Versity.  The versity (my computer wants to make that veracity!) doesn’t have a single teacher or lecturer in it.  It’s a fantastic environment for learning where people learn at a variety of levels they chose and beyond the services infrastructure (those who support the learning environment) it doesn’t have any academic staff.  The staff that are there are absolutely not teachers.  They are either studying and continuing to learn themselves, or they are there to maintain and improve the environment.  Sounds like chaos eh?  A whole bunch of students rock up one day in this big learning area (let’s call it a learning commons as that’s one of the buzz-words around today) and try and sort out what they’re going to study and how.  Who’s in charge?  Who sorts out the curriculum?  Which qualifications are they working towards? What can they possibly get out of it?

Daft idea you say, but who’s ever been to an un-conference?  Why would a bunch of industry professionals get together in one big room without an agenda or speakers?  But if any of you have been to one, you’ll know that the likely learning in an un-conference is far higher than what you learn by watching one or two good keynotes and some other (and often rather poor) presentations.  In fact when I attend conferences, I enjoy the back-channels and the discussions that others have about what they’ve seen and experienced far more than the presentations (I’ve been known to skip a fair few of these too).  The versity and the unconference have their learning roots from the same place - it’s social learning; the ability to learn from others that we choose rather than those that are forced upon us.

Let’s take social learning to that extra level.  In the learning technology world, Twitter is recognised as the leading tool for learning, yet there are no teachers on Twitter (yes yes, I know some people on Twitter also happen to be teachers, but you know what I mean, there are no ‘classes’).  All Twitter does is connect people and get out of the way.  The versity is the same.

The devil will be in the detail I’m sure, you’ll need advisors (hey that’s my team!) that you go to (not that tell you what you can and can’t study, but that can show you benefits and pathways that you choose), you’ll need to work out a financial model - how to pay for using the facilities (or not), how to pay for qualifications and I’m sure another one of those smarter than me people can work that out.  Essentially think of the versity as the mind gym.  You pay your gym fees to be able to use the facility.  If you want a specific ‘grading’ then there’s a fee for it.  If you want a personal trainer you can hire one, but you could just organise a group session yourself if that worked for you - bring your friends.  Great thing would be that we could radically reduce fees for students this way and potentially bring adult learning back to the masses too.

So there it is, the daftest idea to reform education you ever heard of… or maybe just the next logical step.  Throw me your opinion, tell me I’m wrong or that I’m just misunderstood :) 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Learning Technology Influencers and Contributors

I've got some homework from my Working Out Loud (WOL) circle this week around people I admire and why.  In doing this exercise it's made me think a little about what we do and how for many people making their mark on the world - being famous maybe or inventing something or being a 'thought leader' or any of those modern phrases that means people regard you as a top expert in your field.  I've often tried to be this myself, but is this the way to have the biggest effect on learning (let alone life)? Are we almost trying to hard?

I'll get back to that. For now let me talk about who has been part of my learning and why.

It started with my parents who, like most of you I suspect, shaped my early learning and continue to shape my life to this day.  My parents were the biggest influence in my formative years of course - very strong moral background and that's had a profound effect on me and my life. If I'm honest I don't see the world in the same black and white way; but without that early influence I don't know if I would have had the same perspectives or abilities to see things so differently.

My family now are really key to my thinking and the one I admire the most is my wife Kim. The biggest thing Kim has taught me and helped me to improve is empathy and how to really take on how other people feel and I've used this more and more over the last few years. I really admire how she seamlessly switches to someone else's perspective and is able to use that to adjust her behaviours - if I could be half as good at that as her I'd be doing fantastic.

Professionally my biggest influencer was my old head of department when I first started teaching - a gentleman by the name of Paul Unstead who was a giant among men (even though he wasn't that tall). Just an amazing leadership style that empowered, showed courage and empathy as well as someone you could truly look up to. Paul was my mentor through until he died a few years back and I've not filled that role and I'm not sure I ever will...

There are people that don't have to have such a big impact as those above but whom I admire nonetheless.  I'm a free-thinker (or at least that's how I like to think of myself and what I aspire to be) so I like those that challenge what they see and don't just repeat on what others have said without questioning or looking deeper in to it. In this space I love the work that Richard Branson does. I don't know him on any level beyond his public persona, but someone committed to shaking up a lot of pre-conceptions and one of the very few 'famous' people I follow.

My learning influencers tend to come from the learning technologies world; I see a few faces on Twitter and the rounds that I like because of their perspectives and the shape they have on mine.  These include Nick Leffler who has a nicely warped sense of humour and a fun style, Helen Blunden who is razor sharp with a great skill set but again very human, Michelle Ockers who always questions and again has great knowledge, Ryan Tracey who has a wealth of knowledge but great intellectual humility and always willing to listen to a different (yes, often mine) perspective, Con Sotidis because he understands it's about people first and foremost, and Bruno Winck who I frequently and very amiably disagree with but again likes a different perspective. That's not the end of the list, in fact I could go on and on and throw out my lists on Twitter with some other key people I admire, but it's a good start. If you search and follow these people on Twitter you'll be better off for it and I'm sorry for the others I should have mentioned!

So that's my homework, but it takes me back to my original thought. Everyone knows who first came up with the idea of gravity.  We know where the origin of quantum mechanics came from and who invented flight and even the computer. Once upon a time it seemed that this was reaching the pinnacle; to be the recognised inventor or creator; but I think in the age of social media and learning this concept is becoming less and less likely. Who invented the internet? Who made the leap from web to web 2.0? 3.0? It won't be one people, it will be a collective so it's key that to move things forward in the future we can't and won't be out there on our own taking forward the next generation of ideas.  We'll do it together... and if that's not cool, I don't know what is.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Will Twitter continue to be the number one learning tool?

I probably blew the punchline with the title, but if you didn't know it already Twitter is rated the number one tool for learning every year and 2015 is no different.  Jane Hart compiles this list for the Centre for Learning Performance Technologies in the UK based on worldwide research  This is great for us in the modern learning world as Twitter is clearly a tool that puts the individual at the heart and control of their own learning.  Given the history of dominance of Twitter, why question its position at the top of the charts?

1 - Twitter is considering becoming less micro.  If you haven't heard one thing that the gurus of the system are considering is upping the 140 characters that currently limit and effectively define micro-blogging.  There are talks of somewhere between another 10 characters (hardly a monumental shift and unlikely to largely change the world) and a complete re-think ending up with media-rich unlimited characters.  Now sure there's ways around this now and you could argue that more space creates huge opportunities... but then does Twitter just become Linked-In or suddenly a Facebook rival rather than complimentary service?  What's more risky is that it becomes an even greater marketing opportunity.  The great thing about 140 characters is that anything more has to be a link and as an individual I get to choose if I click, follow through or go back through the chain.  An unlimited Twitter to me flips the learning model back to a 'teacher' led drive with more pushing of content and less pull.  It could be a game changer with a huge negative step for learning.

2 - Video is on the rise.  But is it?  If you're observant you'll have noticed that the number two learning tool on the list is You Tube.  That follows if you think about it, if you need anything beyond a short sharp hit or links that Twitter offers you tend to have the option of a media-rich alternative in You Tube.  The thing I like best is that the two have a nice handoff at the moment so you can get informed on Twitter and the links take you to further media - great for self-directed learning.  Twitter launched Periscope earlier this year as a streaming service from Twitter.  But actually the service is a compliment like You Tube rather than direct competition.

3 - Multimedia synchronous interactive tools are going to take over.  I'm not convinced of this one either, but there may be a market share of Twitter users that drift to Blab and the like where they talk and share video rather than type.  Whilst I agree there's a need for the video conferencing type tools both in business and education, there's a beauty in the simplicity of Twitter that keeps it number one.  I love being in a Twitter chat and having the option to surf the net, research and tune in and out as the chat progresses - even forming sub-chats and following some interesting rabbit holes, these are things that are difficult to do in a video conference.  I very much see Twitter in the same vein as tools like SMS or text-messaging - they have their place and although the technology may not be new, it works and for now there's nothing better in the simplicity stakes.

4 - Something new.  There you have it, looking deep into my crystal ball I can conclude that there may be something new coming that will upend the king of learning in the social world. Of course I have no idea what it is or anything about it, but I think there's always space for an innovation that kills off the supreme being (think dinosaurs and video recorders).  What I think may be the new wave is a new input device and I think it may be something to do with wearable technology and our slant towards being on the move.  What if you could 'think' to type or communicate a full type vocabulary without speaking or needing a keyboard.  Not sure, I maybe spinning off here a little, but there will be a new challenger and time will tell if it has what it takes to take the title.

In the meantime Twitter is still an awesome tool for learning so tweet on.  For those wondering Google holds the three and four spot and even a Microsoft product rocks in at 5 - although we may need to re-define learning if we have to resort to Powerpoint to save us :)

Friday, 25 September 2015

Technology and its Impact on People and Performance

I was lucky enough to spend an hour or so this week with the good people of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) Bay of Plenty branch in Tauranga to talk a little (well... in theory a little) around technology and the impact it's having on people and performance.

Lots of what I talked about with them is 'stuff' I'll happily talk about all day with everyone who wants to hear, it's about some of the more recent trends and useful technology and how it's going to impact business and how we can use some of it.

I cover the following topics in the presentation:

  • SWIVL filming and streaming
  • Standing
  • Wearables
  • BYOD#2
  • Modern Learning Environments
  • Learning Systems
  • Working Out Loud
Take a look for yourself Technology Impact Presentation and Video Stream

(of course the slides are static here which isn't as cool as when I had them looking beautiful in Keynote and see the point in the video if you can see where I leant on the microphone and turned it off!)

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Myths about learning in the era of technological acceleration

So by now you may be aware we're in somewhat of a technological revolution.  The thing about the technologies flying in and out of our world is not that they're happening fast - they always seem fast - but that the rate is increasing.  I've written about the technological acceleration before but let's take a look at how the technological acceleration affects education, training and learning and let's look at debunking some of the potential barriers and myths that exist.

  1. I can't keep up with it so why bother?  Two things, firstly you're right you can't keep up the technological acceleration in education, but does that mean you simply give up and do what you've always done instead? Hopefully not, the key is not in trying to keep up with all the latest developments but always looking for ways to use the latest things to your advantage.  As a teacher I always tried to stay current with the latest news and trends that affected my students, nowadays that includes staying abreast of the latest in technological world and seeing the possibilties.  If you haven't thought about the applications that wearable technology offer us for just-in-time type learning then are you really looking to offer the best learning outcomes you can for your students?
  2. I don't have the budget.  Chances are if you're in education that there's more than a little truth to that - in fact when I was working more commercial sector the same was true - never enough budget.  What that really means is that you have to imaginative and selective around technologies, you have to know what opportunities exist and what the likely cost will be.  Whilst hardware is always going to be relatively costly there are software solutions and applications that are increasingly not specific on a platform - and lots that can be done at low or even no cost.  Even hardware has its exceptions, think Google Cardboard - a 3D system that could cost you $5 a headset?
  3. I don't have the time.  I've also blogged on this very topic before because it's a common excuse that we all use at times. But let's be honest, the truth is that you don't have enough motivation and desire - it's simply not important enough, if it was you'd make the time.  That may sound glib, but the issue is about how important you view it rather than whether or not you have the time - it may mean you have to drop some things that are less important (like spending your time arguing or complaining about how little time you have :)
  4. I don't know what technologies will take off and what will be gone.  
    Unless you have a crystal ball I'd have to agree you don't (and nor does anyone else of course).  What succeeds and what fails in technologies is about what gets used and adopted; by making a decision to use a technology you're adding to the likelihood that it succeeds - and vice versa of course.
  5. I don't understand it well enough and I'm afraid that my students will know more than me.  You're probably right again, but all the more reason to get stuck in.  The old-school master who knows all and student knowing nothing model is broken, learning is a two-way street and if you've stopped learning then you're in the wrong job.  Try something new, share your journey with your students and learn from them or at least with them.  If you don't take that step how will you ever improve in this area?
  6. The technology might fail... I might fail.  It might and at some point it almost certainly will, that's part of being up-to-date and trying the latest things, but if you're setting up a learning environment then making it safe to fail is of utmost importance and if it's good enough for your students to fail and learn from that the same should be true for you.
  7. Technology sucks.  No, you're wrong it's awesome and the reason is that it will open up possibilities and opportunities that you hadn't even thought of before - how exciting is that from a learning perspective?

That's my take - the barriers that we put up are actually pretty lame, let's get stuck in, look for opportunities and evolve.  Thoughts?

Oh yeah, I wrote this in the back of a minibus between Tauranga and Rotorua so please excuse typos and the like :)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Grey is the new black

I know I've mentioned this already in a couple of other blog posts this week (trust and networks and doing the right thing), but I've just seen so many examples and issues recently caused by people dealing in absolutes that I think it deserves a mini-blog of it's own.  Here's my take on why grey is not only the new black but the colour of things to come if we're going to continue to evolve.

Firstly we need to dispel the notion that in day to day things we deal with predominantly facts.  We don't. We predominantly deal with opinions and versions of what we witness.  Outside of the purest of mathematics there's very little absolute fact.  In fact in high-level maths they even start to bring uncertainty and probability into the equations - call it grey maths.  For example, watch the news on different channels, listen to interviews - what they build is a picture of what's occurred that may become clearer in time but isn't a series of absolutes.  A great example here would be 911.  I can vividly recall the day and what unfolded and recollect the initial picture and the story that unfolded.  Sure there are facts, like aeroplanes colliding with the towers, but in amongst that are stories, versions, witness accounts which build the picture - not to mention motives, responsibilities and accountabilities much of which is still unclear to this day.

Processes need to cater for the normal not every possible eventuality.  This is one of the places that grey is your best colour to consider.  If you try to make process flow diagrams that show every outcome and possibility you'll do two things, firstly you'll make it very cluttered and overly complicated, and secondly you'll fail because you can't actually predict every possible outcome.  Instead you should show the main flow through and a simple how to get help if not.  Job done, simple, easy to follow and effective.

Time is relative to. I've spoken about this in previous posts (relativity in learning)and stressed the nature that 'facts' tend to change with time (hey, we once thought the world was flat).  Time is the ultimate colour mixing pot for us as the blend changes as we add more and more to it. What you think should be the same.  Do you hold the same beliefs entirely that you did yesterday or last year? What about 10 years ago or when you were 10? Time is relative and everything changes.

People are people. They are not wholly good or wholly bad, they just are what they are - a shade somewhere in between.  If you interact with people believing everything they say because they are good or vice-versa you just end up with a distorted picture (that you yourself will likely perpetuate to others).  Just as what they tell you isn't black or white nor are they and you can learn from interactions with everyone.

In fact the problem runs deeper.  We seem to have a love affair with categorising everything including people.  Not only are there not wholly good and wholly bad people,
there aren't even specific types of people.  There aren't 50 shades of grey (although there's a book and film) there are infinite.  We are all individual is just about it.  7 billion shades of grey? Yep and ever increasing.  It does seem to be human nature to categorise everything and pigeon hold for simplicities sake, but when we do that we should be aware it's a digital approximation of an analogue reality.  The ultimate digital state is binary; 1 or 0 or black and white and that's the extreme of categorising and inherently the least accurate.

So where does this leave us?  It leaves us in a world where critical thinking, compassion and empathy need to combine to work effectively together - and that's great :) Just remember that this blog post itself isn't right or wrong either, it's just a bit of my take on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Is trust a key part of networks, circles and sharing?

Before you get outraged at the title and rush to answer 'yes' of course, let's actually step back and look at this one.  Over the last few years we've seen a sharp increase in the amount of 'stuff' (yeah, you can tell this article will be scientific eh?) that's available, we're sharing more than ever and that's a good thing.  The downside is that there's a greater than ever opportunity for the bad side to rear its ugly head too; plagiarism, rip-offs and cyber-bullying to name a few.  

Once upon a time we used to share our stuff directly with a few people.  Sometimes we'd even publish something and it would get shared with more and if you were famous you'd even make television.  Nowadays the most humble and even the most limited of individuals can reach a potential audience of millions upon millions with nothing more than a few swipes of their thumb.  So does trust play a part in this?

It really does depend, so let's start with the extremities where the answer is simpler.  If you're pushing stuff out publicly via Facebook (open to all or with options that allow that to happen), Twitter via a general tweet or a public post on LinkedIn or your blog site the answer is actually 'no, not really'.  If you're reading this from your mental asylum (it does explain some things) or raging at what I'm saying that's fine - it doesn't directly hurt me and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts here for anyone (and yes, I mean anyone) to get to, reply, discuss, agree, disagree etc.  If you're in the public domain and it's right out there then whether you trust those that get it or not is irrelevant - you simply can't trust everyone who could read it could you?

On the other end of the scale maybe you have an intimate circle of families/friends/mentor type relationship.  These relationships are pivotal on trust and it's a bond that often takes years to build (and an instant to destroy if you break that trust).  I don't think many of us would argue that these small and intense relationships require a level of trust to be able to share things that you probably wouldn't want broadcasted.

The difficulty comes in between; what about a small internal network or circle that you share things with first before going public if at all?  I know there's a lot of circles (hey, I've even joined a (the) NZ WOL circle recently) and it seems logical that some like-minded individuals come together there.  How important is it that they trust each other? Again it depends on the situation, there's a level of trust to me that seems to be directly proportional to the level of intimacy of the situation.  What I mean by that is that if I'm sharing something I really don't want to 'get out' then I must really trust that person.  That doesn't necessarily mean that by not sharing those things we don't explicitly trust those around us, it just means there's levels of trust and sharing.

It comes to a point I made in an earlier blog this week about what's the biggest threat to
doing the right thing where I revealed one of the big problems is our tendency to see things in black and white.  Trust is a sliding scale.  Who would you trust with your life? Very few people I would expect, despite the fact that if you entrusted a large number of people with it they would probably take extraordinary care with it (in fact I remember an article a while back of people guarding other people's stuff more vigilantly than their own).  What about your career?  Your current job? Your wallet? Your daily report? The weather? A news item? A bit of gossip? A dollar? You see it's a sliding scale and our networks are probably built around a level of trust that we and the others in our group feel comfortable with.

The question someone raised today in #pkmchat was what would happen if someone in the group betrayed that trust.  My response is that the group and individual would do what they always do, they would evolve around the issue and become slightly different.  Maybe that would mean the person would leave the group and the group would adjust its level of trust within, maybe the group would exclude the member and maybe things would return to normal.  The answer again is a greyscale not black and white and it will always depend on the breach and the personalities involved.

So here's my offering as to how to move beyond some of the trust issues.  I tend to work out loud (before it was WOL and after) and say for the most part this is what I do, this is what has happened and what I've found.  Sometimes I'm right and here it is for celebration. Sometimes I'm wrong and here's the learnings so far - or even, can anyone help?  I think WOL can be a really effective counter to trust issues we may have.  If someone has guns out for me and I share my learnings (you can call them failures if you will) it kind of takes away a lot of their ammunition (watch the end of 8Mile to catch my drift here).  What do you say to someone who says 'sorry, screwed up when we did that and this is the learning'? You can shout, you can rant but if they're truly working out loud, they'll just apply that and move on and let you and everyone else know about it.  So to me, trust in the wider sense is less of an issue.

There's also a way to counter-act trust issues in smaller groups and circles.  Here the important thing is to have integrity.  Now integrity is a really easy word to throw around, but what I really mean by it is that when you talk to private small groups, be mindful of what you say and consider carefully the feelings of others.  If that sounds a bit hammy, maybe it is, but if I talk to different people I'm always mindful of what I say about others.  I don't like the political games of playing people off against each other.  I've seen too many people run down one person when with one group and another with another (does that make sense!).  I remember an old boss was once described to me as someone who ran with the foxes and hunted with the hounds.  It's that duplicity or lack of trust that actually puts relationships at risk.  To me that means that the trust issue may actually lie as much with yourself as the others that you perceive untrustworthy.  Mmm... I'm not totally convinced of my own point here - but hopefully you can see where I'm going with it! If you've got the integrity to not put others down and keep yourself above that level you're less likely to run into many of these trust issues.  I'd also like to say I've learned some of this from my own actions over the years, life in perpetual beta will allow you to work through that...

So, back to the original question is trust a key part?  I say yes, it's important first and foremost to be trustworthy yourself - maintain your integrity no matter what.  If you work this way and at least use some of the principles of WOL and sharing the outcomes and learnings then for the most part the answer is actually 'not so much'.  Of course those smallest and most intimate groups will always be built on trust - just don't take them for granted.

Yeah or nah? Happy to discuss further...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The biggest threat to doing the right thing?

Okay, we're heading in a totally new direction in the Nth Degree today. I'm used to writing around learning and technology because hey, that's what I do right?  But today I thought I'd go for something slightly different and look at the thing which really stops us breaking down barriers and making effective change - it seems to me it's the fear of not fitting in or belonging - the very groupings that seem to define us could be what is at the heart of lots of our problems.  So here we go, let's look at some of the big issues and ask a few questions:

#1 Is patriotism wrong? Maybe it really is.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong in loving where you're from or where you live, but when where you're from is more important than treating other people with respect (for example the people in the next city or state, let alone country) then something is out of kilter.  When wars occur they're usually between one geographic area and another.  At the heart of these wars there may be a lot of different reasons, but eventually we choose sides based upon where we're from rather than being able to clearly think for ourselves and choose what is right or wrong.  Here's the essence of a lot of what is wrong with our world - gang mentality is like a drug that impairs our ability to make well-balanced decisions based upon what we know is right or wrong.  I like this article from the US (arguably the most patriotic of nations).  In answer to the question it really can be, but loving your country doesn't mean that you're automatically in the wrong either, it's when the love of your country becomes greater than your abilities to apply critical thought to a situation.
#2 What if I don't fit in?  One of the biggest drivers for us doing things is to try and fit in.  We all do it and we all make questionable judgement calls based upon trying to worry about what others think and fitting in with the group.  Think frat-house mentality for a particularly clear example where people will do things out of character in order to prove their 'worth' to the group.  It's another example of us overriding what we really know is right or wrong to go with what we think we need to do to impress.  How many of us truly have the strength to stand on our own?  It's truly scary and I know at times I've been as guilty of trying to fit in as anyone and have acted poorly in that way.

#3 Is love blind?  So if love of your country is wrong what about love of another person or
group of people?  What about love of a football team or friends?  When can love be the problem? When love is blind.  If we blindly do things we know are wrong in the name of love that can only be a bad thing.  I know that many of us say we would do anything for the person or people we love, but would you really?  If your wife or husband asked you to kill another person they didn't like, would you? If your child did something illegal and abhorrent would you cover up for them?  It's not black and white I appreciate, a starving family would you steal for - yes and I'm sure most would... that leads into the next one...

#4 Is it black and white?  The issue of right or wrong is as grey as most of my arguments so far.  How many times have we acted on an issue because of the unshakeable knowledge that it's right?  There are laws and rules, but we break these under certain circumstances because actually there is a time to use your judgement, to realise that we don't live in a world of absolutes.  There are times when the law says something, groups of people agree, the people you love agree - but actually it's not that simple and it's not as clear cut as all that.  All the big issues; race, religion, love... none are actually black and white.  Sorry to spell this one out but there are no wholly good or wholly bad of the above. The problems often occur when we think in black and white and lose our ability to see both sides of the argument.  If nothing else, take away from today that nothing is harder to deal with than absolutes and inflexibility.

#5 Is believing enough?  I'm going to try gently (again) to touch religion without causing
outcry - but actually it's wider than just religion, it's about belief.  Believing in something is a natural human thing - we find something, a mantra an ideal or a way of living that we associate with and tie ourselves too. There's nothing wrong with a belief that's not totally based upon hard evidence (even if hard evidence itself actually exists - another time, another blog), unless that belief again clouds our ability and blindly allows us to act without thinking.  Remember that black and white issue?  If you believe that being a christian makes you right and a muslim makes you wrong (or vice versa) then you're not seeing things as they really are.  Good and evil are just classifications of belief - and like all classifications they are approximations, digital extremes on a life that is analogue.

#6 When are you going to mention attitude?  My good friend Ryan Tracey waits for me to mention attitude because at some point in every chat I resort to my catch-all; it's about attitude.  Reason being that my belief centres around attitude and how it's our attitude that affects what we do more than anything else.  In my usual context that's about learning; learning simply doesn't take place too often without the right attitude.  We can talk about change and breaking down barriers all we like, but without the right attitude it's unlikely to happen (you have no idea how hard it was to right that sentence without using extremes like 'never'!).

In summary, I'm not sure where my motivation for today's post came from or even what my point was - I think most people are aware that the biggest challenges we face in learning and in the world perhaps are around the barriers we erect and silo-type thinking, I just want to highlight that there are some pretty big things that we place in the way that impact our abilities to think.

Agree or disagree?  (or somewhere grey in between?)!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Is audio falling on deaf ears?

I remember in the early days of elearning (back when we called it CBT if I remember rightly) being distraught at the idea of being constrained by the limitations (then, not that things have moved that far forward) by Citrix sessions that wouldn't allow for audio to work on the packages.  Crazy to think you could have elearning without audio back then.  Perhaps even more crazy can you imagine a phone where you didn't have audio, or a microphone to speak in to?  Yet the large majority of young mobile phone users hardly make a call in the traditional sense - they use text or picture messaging to convey what they think.  If we were to look back a few years ago to the features of mobile technology it might have been reasonable to think that text messaging was a stop-gap until something came along to replace it... yet here we are, not only as popular but more popular than ever.  Studies back a few years ago revealed that the mobile phone's primary use for young types was text messaging (42% if you're into numbers, with safety next at 35% - Neilsen 2010).  Whilst I'm referencing I pinched some of my ideas from this blog post: We Never Talk Any More

Surely these two things aren't related though; audio in learning and mobile phones?  Well here's a theory or two on why and where we might be headed.  One issue is without wearing headphones audio just isn't private.  Ever navigate to a website (especially when you're involved in self-directed learning) and the video and audio just automatically cracks in loudly and everyone in the office looks round?  One of my pet hates on web-sites is embedded video and audio that thinks it's fine to automatically start and push its way in.  In fact if I Google how to do something and there are web pages or a Youtube video, I tend to head to the web-page first rather than straight to the video.  The reason is, and here's my second point, that I have control over what I read, what I skim and how I progress.  Most how-to videos start off by teaching granny how to suck eggs (or assume no knowledge if you're unfamiliar with the euphemism), they reinforce the old 'you know nothing, I know everything' model of teaching that some of us are working really hard to dispel.  The ownership for my learning is suddenly in someone else's hands again and I don't want that.

The third point here is the push versus pull.  Not only do I have to watch the video and listen to the audio to make sense of it, I can't control what's coming next - I can't even predict what's coming next. When I read an article or a blog I skim, if I like what I'm seeing I go back and forth sometimes or straight through other times but it's my choice, my direction, me that pulls the information rather than someone else who pushes what they push.

Then there's the other side of audio.  The biggest issue with taking a phone call over a text message is the need to speak back.  Sure I can listen (although there are those that argue I can't) but when I need to speak again privacy blows out the water.  How many of you work in open plan offices?  The reason people often don't like them is that very lack of privacy and in particular when speaking with others on the phone or via web-conferencing.  In fact let's take this further into the world of technology.  I've got an Apple Watch and I love it actually.  The thing I love most about it is the haptics (the little vibrations the watch does to let me know what's going on).  Then there's the biometric sensors and a very cool retina screen which actually does most of the micro-type messaging I want to see.  I also like that there are (editable) one touch responses to things like Facebook messages or texts.  Sure Siri is evolving and the voice commands on the watch are useful (for example when in a car).  But outside of the novelty factor, I do feel a bit self-conscious if I have to speak to my watch in public.  So if audio outputs can affect privacy, audio inputs are even more disruptive.

The other thing is the asynchronous nature of communications that are not audio based.  I can for example multi-task and converse with several people at the same time, continue to do other things and it doesn't affect the quality or message that I send - the same can't be said for an audio conversation - much less video or face to face.  It also allows me to give informed responses, checking online for solutions, sending through hyperlinked information and of course recording it all in a store for me so that I can scroll back through (or search) without ever having to consider writing something down.  In the learning sense our learners can control beyond the direct learning - interact with others and use social learning practise without the pressure of having to watch the twenty minute one-way stream of 'knowledge' (don't get me started).

Where does that leave us?  Typing text messages has led to a very developed 'thumb' for modern mobile users but surely the future lies in ways to make what we think appear on the screen or commands beyond the audible methods.  For learning do we focus on input modes that don't rely on voice?  To be honest most learning doesn't rely on a voice input and probably for good reason - can you imagine a room full of people trying to talk to an automated 'programme'?  Voice recognition is still a little frustrating too, I've had some very unproductive 'conversations' with automated systems and Siri and I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship too!

Now just to clarify my slightly off-the-wall blog today, I do believe that video, streaming media, virtual reality, augmented reality and other audio-visual inputs and outputs have their place moving forwards and Youtube is still THE place to go for funny animals and a valuable learning resource, but I think the future needs to consider the disruption of audible communications and how that meshes with an increasingly crowded environments of people interacting with others not in the crowd.

So there you have it, audio doesn't always fall on deaf ears... and perhaps that's the problem, I look forward to the solution.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

What's Wrong with Modern Learning Environments?

Modern learning environments (MLE) are getting a pretty big buzz these days in the education sector and wider training areas too.  If you're not in the know, the move is away from the traditional classroom - four walls, whiteboard, projector - everything facing the front - to a more dynamic space encouraging different types of learning. The move seems obvious enough doesn't it?  We've generally recognised that the old model of learning; master who knows everything and student who knows nothing, isn't really the way the best learning takes place.  We've seen a big shift towards social learning and a generally more student focussed approach, combined with the flipped classroom which focusses more on the problem based learning activities in 'class' than the knowledge transfer which was once the foundation of educational practice.

So what's the big deal, if we're all agreed it makes sense, why not just throw up some life reflecting collaborative and shared spaces with funky colour schemes and let the magic happen?  And that's kind of where the problem lies.  Largely that's been the case, learning spaces have been transformed and the idea is that the learning would simply follow on - or if the assumption was that learning was already 'modern' in its approach, simply be grateful for the better designed spaces.

Unfortunately the reality often doesn't quite match the intention.  Our teachers, educators and trainers are somewhat used to their space, their walls and their environment the way it was and their teaching has grown into that space.  Sure the new furniture is nice, and the colour schemes are cool, but where's my walls, my privacy... my control?  The key it seems is often in flexibility, the ability to quickly and easily change the design of the room, the size, configuration, desk, wall, group spaces etc.  The flexibility though provides a raft of options for teachers and whilst from an outsider that appears to be all good, for the teachers themselves that simply means more work and learning new things.  If you think being a teacher automatically makes you a good learner think again - and think hairdressers and their own hair!  Teaching and learning were once often poles apart and only in recent years have we tried to bring the two together.

What do student think of these new spaces?  Generally students are comfy; for example we transformed our library here at the Polytechnic a year or so ago to include a cafe, open meeting areas, some closed, some collaborative and configurable meeting spots - students love the area, it has a great feel and is even self-regulating around volume.  In fact it's become a popular meeting area for staff too and everyone agrees it's a success.  So again, surely we can make these new MLEs work for our lessons too?

So here we hit the main issue.  The problem isn't actually with the spaces that encourage and allow for collaborative and shared work and flexibility or with the modern theory of teaching and learning, the issue is that we've not got enough teachers, trainers and educators who are fully prepared to take advantage of this together... at least not yet. If we throw old-school (excuse the pun) teachers into our modern environment with a few pointers in how to do it and a bunch of theories, most will quickly revert to what they know.

This is actually a space in which we can learn a lot from early and primary education, where collaborative work and activities centred on the student are not only good for the learning, they're a necessity for young minds. If you combine this with the the fact that many of the young students coming through to tertiary and higher education now will have very little 'formal' student experience where they sit for several hours a day listening to presentation style lessons, we're definitely in need of these MLEs and perhaps more importantly the ability to use them effectively.

It's very much a change management piece as well as a learning piece and when you think about it, it doesn't make much sense that we lecture and send out information on MLEs to teaching staff forcing them to change their practice without doing the same to ourselves and our method of delivery.  In fact, it's more than just a change management piece, it's a culture change and that is something that doesn't just happen overnight or by itself.

How do you do it then?  Largely the only way to change a learning environment and be successful is to apply the same principles to the space as you are expecting from the learning.  Collaboration, sharing, learning from everyone and centring your learning around the students, which in this case is the teachers, which is the whole point isn't it?

Simple answer to the first question posed in the title?  Absolutely nothing.  But there's plenty that might be wrong with our approach to using them.