Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Society is Broken... Can Education fix it??

I've also posted this on Medium

We have to actually ask ourselves, what is the purpose of school and education? If we answer that it is about preparing young people for entering society, the workforce and for further study, then we'd have to conclude that we currently miss out enormously on the opportunities that this gives us as a society.  It's not that surprising really, society as a whole is broken. Call it a first-world problem if you will, but it also explains why the majority of the third-world remains as such. Society is broken because we're getting it wrong on so many levels, both individually and collectively. We're raising generations to perpetuate what we already know isn't really right. Okay, let me rewind slightly before I dig into education, let's ask the fundamental question of what's wrong with society?

Firstly, we're all out for ourselves. We generally are taught from a young age that life's not fair and that you have to take and grab everything you can. We're highly materialistic and driven by the 'American Dream' of making lots of money so we can have a ridiculous amount of creature comforts we neither need or fully appreciate. The irony of the selfish desire to look after number one and then to expand slightly to close family and maybe even one or two friends (though obviously not at our own expense) is that we come together collectively to achieve and perpetuate this. This is where collectively we align. Not to save the world from poverty, not to make sure that it's a fair and equitable existence, not to stamp out preventable illness, to further the scientific discoveries or express our creative selves. No. We come together to put ourselves first.

If common sense is rare, then communal sense is all but mythical. It seem like rather than 'adding' individuals sense together, the more we crowd into a single purpose the dumber it gets. Mob thought has rarely produced anything of great value unfortunately. I really don't mean to criticise those that stand up for what they believe in and unite together to campaign peacefully. I think that's probably the one exception, but even then often the purity of the original message is lost in collective dumbness - perhaps that's why so many protests turn violent or result in behaviours as bad or sometimes worse than they were originally protesting about.

If I had to come up with the single biggest issue beyond selfishness it would be a lack of empathy in our society. Fitting in to a society that's broken is just plain daft. We not only waste an enormous amount of our time, love, money and efforts attempting to fit in with what our collective ignorance tells is normal, we actively strike out at those that don't measure up to it. Those around us that don't fit our broken model of normal we ostracise. We pick on those that are 'dirty' and those that live 'alternatively'. We pick on those that are weaker, those that think differently, any minorities that we find; heck we even pick on those that stand out by succeeding more than we feel they should. In New Zealand I've heard lots of people talk about Tall Poppy Syndrome where we put down those that make it in the belief that they make the rest of us look bad. In fact we're so intent on making everything and everyone normal we don't actually stop to ask if normal is right.

It's not. Right. Normal that is. What is lacking from the picture is empathy and understanding. The key quality that makes a society work and operate at the highest of levels is empathy. When we start to care about those around us at a more than superficial level everything changes. Now at this point you're probably wondering what type of nutter extremist I am. A communist? An idealist? A revolutionist? I don't think I'm any of those, I surely wouldn't define myself as any of the above, but I am an individual and I do want to change both personally and collectively. Ever since I was aware enough about what was going on around me I knew I was letting myself down much the same as everyone else around me was doing the same. I'm far from the human I think I could be just as this society is so far away from what it could be too. I've so often put myself first and often reaped the so called rewards of it. I've obtained a high level of education and earned good money, live in a nice home etc. But deep down the more I achieve the less I'm satisfied by achieving those things. I could quit my job, sell the home and go work for a charity or help starving kids in Africa (and maybe I should), but I actually don't think that's the answer either. The answer is as an individual to embrace empathy on a level that I haven't and perhaps we haven't before.

Society sets us goals. House, family, job, car, etc. We actually need to re-define those goals based around empathy. To be ultra successful should be something we measure by the value one adds to those around more than to the value one adds to themselves. And I don't mean by making lots of material wealth and then sharing it particularly either - all though that would be one way of achieving goals. The people we should hold up in highest esteem shouldn't be the ones that achieve the highest levels or earn the biggest salaries but the ones that are the best towards other people. That doesn't mean that traditionally successful people should be discriminated against either; you could make great pop music and be wealthy and be looked up to if you were the sort of person that looked after others. Can you imagine replacing our glossy magazines about pop culture with those about people who helped raise those around them? Uplifting stories of people who actually improved our society rather than just made things better for themselves.

If some of you are wondering if this is all coming to a religious type ending then you'll be disappointed. I'm not talking about religion at all actually. I think you can believe in one thing or another or not, but that really doesn't automatically mean that you achieve the levels of citizenship that I'm talking about here. There are great christians who look after those around them and hit those high levels and there are awful ones who are really only out for themselves, or other christians. I could say the same about muslims. I could say the same about the other religions that I can or can't name. It's no more about religion than it is about skin colour. Or sex. Or sexual orientation. Or political beliefs. Thing is, the levels of empathy I'm talking about are set around acceptance of others and all their beliefs and upbringing and actually just about everything about them. I don't know much about lots of these things but I do know that love is better than hate, in all its guises. I do know that if we look out for one another and less for ourselves we'll be better off for it, both collectively and individually. 

We treat other cultures so badly on the whole. It's no wonder they 'hate' us when the we display hate to them on so many levels. In fact we treat other religions this way as a collective. We do the same with anything different when we use our collective (lack of) intelligence. We perpetuate the very thing we hate in others. We fight hate with more hate. We fight discrimination with more discrimination. We do this in the name of all that is making a 'normal' that is based around self and hate of others. It's actually a collective madness that we'd all see if we could step back away from it.

So, I started by talking education and I want to now return there. Our curriculum is currently set the same as it was back in the 19th century around maths, science and language predominantly. We need to adjust that if we're going to change this place. We need to start thinking about empathy as the number one subject taught at every school on this planet. We then need to have a core curriculum that bases itself around the other things that our society needs to move forwards; communication skills, problem solving, creativity - the sort of things by which a society as a whole can come together.  That's it really, we can then add context to those key areas - maths is still important as a part of problem solving for certain issues. Language is an important part of communicating (but not the only one - body language, for example). Science is also a key part of problem solving and understanding our world. Our schools need to teach young people the values of others and the dangers of self - that's kind of the opposite to what we're currently doing.

Collectively we can change society, but it starts individually. For me an increase in my own empathy is the starting point, what about you?

Agree? Completely disagree? Interested in all opinions even if you just think I'm a bit loopy (and sometimes I'm inclined to agree with you). 

Friday, 23 September 2016

You are the problem... and the solution

All posts can be found on medium:

This one is here:

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Leadership and the technological acceleration

Leadership. What a great concept. Ever since the dawn of time, we've migrated to charismatic leaders; strong types that we can follow into battle. I'm tempted to say today is no different, but yet it is isn't it? The world of technology has turned so much of what we know on its head, how many years of driving your own car do you think are left? The average life expectancy has risen by around 10 years in the last 30... that's staggering, technology has changed everything and we're in the midst of a technological acceleration; we haven't seen anything yet. How do you be a great leader now if you don't at least recognise the effects of technology on today's (let alone tomorrow's) workforce?

A lot of people merge leadership and management of course. They're different beasts, we tend to over-manage and under-lead by my experiences at least. For the simple sake of this blog, let's take management as being the ability to organise a team - think of it as a scalar quantity - like speed.  Leadership we'll define as a vector quantity; by that I mean
that as well as providing a level of management the key thing is that the leader also provides or enables direction as well as just organisation.  So if management is speed, then leadership is velocity (this is where my old physics teacher stuff comes in, for those not aware look up the difference between speed and velocity and hopefully that will become clear). If you're still unsure think that if your team goes at speed X they're flying, but without knowing the direction of X how effective are they? The leader provides both X and the direction to take them there. Put another (and perhaps clearer) way, the ability to lead requires the leader to be an enabler but also to unite the team in working towards their objectives.

Maybe I should write one of those blogs that tells you the seven things that all effective leaders do... but truth is those are mostly just marketing ideas. Leaders are defined actually by the affect they have on others not their own personal qualities. My first leader was a hilarious comb-over flare-wearing little man who had leadership down pat - though I'm not sure anyone else could have carried off his style and made it work. There is no formula for leadership, but there are things that are desperately important.

First up is around change. Call this the technological acceleration factor, but it's always existed through the industrial revolution, technological revolution and whatever the correct term for the current intelligence revolution we're experiencing. As a great leader you don't need to be up on all the latest technologies, but what you do need to be is a leader that understands the way things are changing and be open to those changes and realise they
have an effect on your team. If you've got someone driving innovation and pushing the boundaries that you're essentially struggling to keep in check you need to appreciate that this is a good thing. I love it when my team come up with ideas that I hadn't thought of, I like it even better when they say we've done this that and found this... I don't need them to check with me before they do things believe it or not. Innovation, change and technology... this is our world and the ability to embrace these things is what will separate effective workers from the 'robots' that will replace them.

Leaders need to be stretched, they also need to stretch their teams. You have to challenge them to come up with solutions and ideas and not stagnate on doing what they've always done. My favourite question is 'how can we improve this?'. You're either continuously looking for improvement or you're accepting that this is as good as it gets. Actually it's worse. If you stay still and things move forwards you're actually going backwards. I've been shot some filthy looks in meetings when anyone mentions 'best practice' I automatically respond with 'no such thing'. There isn't you know. It may have been best for one specific function at one specific time, but with the rate of change the concept of best practice is literally ridiculous. Good practice I can go with, but remember it's good now, doesn't mean it will always be good, you need to evolve.

If continuous improvement, change and appreciation of technology are vital to being a good leader now, one of the others is the very human element, it's a perspective issue. If I had to sum it up in a single phrase it would be; 'this is the team I'm a part of, I work for them'. My job as the leader of a team is to be a part of that team - they're not 'my' team, it's 'our' team. That's not just politically correct it's a vital approach to being able to get the most out of a team. The second part of that is that I work for the team not the other way round. For the most part they're the ones that do the work, I provide the environment, make sure they have what they need, are under manageable pressures and reduce external stuff that can de-rail effective teamwork. If it sounds wishy-washy, just think about effective leaders you've worked for; they seem to really care about you, this happens when you put yourself in this position.

My last thing is all about the direction. Work for your team, be open to change, look for continuous improvement and then make sure that the direction is there.  Easy eh? I've spend years in middle-management sandwiched between team needs and drives from above, but the key is that we focus on direction together knowing what we're heading towards. You know all that vision, goals, mission statement? That's what we're trying to capture; what's at the heart of why you do what you do. I'm in education so for me if we don't equate it back to what we're really here for - students and learning - then you'd have to question why you do things. The team looks to me when they don't understand some pressures and I work with them to bring it back to teaching and learning and the effects on students. The whole thing works beautifully if the whole organisation worked under a flipped philosophy that we work for the people who sit organisationally under us. When it doesn't, you need to be able to provide direction using a step-back perspective approach when you can still see the overall goal. My take on most organisations is that we aim for overly complex 'strategy' with numerous goals, missions etc etc. If we boiled it down to something really simple that everyone believed in we'd have massive buy-in for leadership in the technological acceleration.

So there you have my take on leading for the next generation. Innovative, always looking for improvements, working for your team and providing clear direction.  There's one characteristic I think you need to make that happen (flares are optional) - courage. Courage to do the right thing, back your team when it's right, tackle them when it's not, make the tough decisions with the right frame of mind. Courage to put them before yourself and courage to challenge the status quo.

Of course I may not even be a good leader so why listen to me? Maybe because this is the same thing I want in my leader, what about you?

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Portfolios and ePortfolios; a better way to assess?

Portfolios aren't a new idea, for years people have gathered evidence and put it one place. Once upon a time this was all paper-based and you used a big folder (really big if you were an art student) and saved all the bits and pieces you collected and then, after the mandatory 'tarting up' process, you submitted it to be assessed upon. I remember my English assessment at (high) secondary school which was all based upon 'coursework' which was a portfolio by another name and that was, err... a while ago.  Of course my coursework was really just a group of summative assessments strung together, all well and good but not really a full portfolio of work.  We also now have the abilities to do this without cutting down the rain forest too, eportfolios (which are just porfolios of course) enable us to gather pieces of information and interaction as well as summative assessments (and formative!) to produce our portfolio.  Seems like an awesome solution to most of our assessment needs and yet, amazingly, we still seem to make the vast majority of our assessments test or exam based - even more amazingly there's still a plethora of assessments that seem to be closed-book knowledge based regurgitation.

Closed-book for those not down with edu lingo simply means under exam conditions; no access to the internet, no other reading material or previous notes (usually) and no communicating with anyone or anything. Cool. Just like real life? No, anything but for the majority of us. When we take away the opportunity to look things up or research during a summative assessment what we're actually saying is you must remember things yourself and only yourself - how many 'doing' applications does that accurately represent? And if the purpose of testing isn't to show you can 'do' something then we probably need to question what it is... It's not that closed-book scenarios are totally useless, there are times when they're appropriate, but that's just not the norm so our assessments should be closer to reality.

The beauty of a portfolio is that it doesn't have to be one thing or another either.  What I mean is that portfolios don't have to contain just summative type assessments, or just exams or trainer/teacher evaluated stuff, they can include self-assessed work peer-assessed and even non-assessed work.  Add to that the ability for the portfolio itself to be part of the collaborative nature, they can (and the best ones usually do) include the ability to record social interactions that contribute towards the learning.  You also have the opportunity to get away from purely written material too.  Students should be able to include video (so easy these days to make video with mobile phones and webcams), audio, links to work, blogs, forums, websites etc etc - in fact it's not just the student, recently I saw a presentation from a Google rep which included how teachers can provide audio feedback on student's work.  What about a student completing a task and taking a simple phone made video of it, with comments then added by some peers and a tutor - all done almost instantly and accessible anywhere, anytime on any device?

Portfolios are also built over time, it shouldn't be an onerous job at the end of a course to put one together, they should be built as they go with regular feedback and sharing.  One of the big problems for students is that we ask them to store and study for exams that once they take they almost instantly forget.  With an eportfolio not only do we build over time, but the portfolio itself becomes more than just a record of the learning, it's also a place to go back to for reference and, when done really well, something that builds beyond the time that it's assessed.

There's more great news too, you can put together an eportfolio without having to splash out on expensive systems.  Lots of educational providers use Moodle and it's cousin Mahara as an open source eportfolio base.  Mahara can work and doesn't cost anything for the code, but if you don't have the abilities or permissions to set up an instance it can still be costly to get implemented.  One of the great free tools for achieving this is the Google suite of apps.  Blogger (this tool!) provides a way of achieving this for some people, but actually the simple use of Google Drive provides an effective way to be able to build store and have collaborative interaction on your portfolio.  Anyone can get a free Google drive with 15 GB of shareable space, that's a pretty good instant solution that you can link directly to an LMS or website or however you want.  But actually the tool is really of far less importance than the content and the communication around the portfolio.  

Hey maybe the answer for you isn't building a portfolio... maybe you need knowledge check alone and the way you've been doing it is the only way.  But maybe not, and if you want to design better assessments, maybe looking at the world of portfolios is worth the investment in time?

Agree, disagree, or just want to help build my portfolio (and yours!) by commenting? Feel free....

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Teaching and Learning; brothers from different mothers

Teaching and learning are often used synonymously and sometimes even interchangeably, we often talk about what learners will learn, when what we mean is what students will be taught. Am I just being a bit picky here? After all, we set things like learning objectives, we talk about elearning, surely it's just a rose by another name right? No I don't think so, I think that teaching and learning are closely related, but they are different animals, think half-brothers, maybe step-brothers (and as a quick tip of the hat to the world of political correctness I apologise for using the male part of the definition; it was just that brother and mother rhyme and made for a better title). What is taught has always had a major influence on what is learnt, but to think they are one and the same is a key flaw with the way we often approach education and has major impact in the training world too.

Anyone who reads any of my previous ramblings will know that I have long-time held knowledge in a form of contempt, the search for knowledge is not a higher purpose, the search for learning is. Fact is I've had to reshape my own thinking a little on this with recent discussions too.  I've spent much of my time dissing knowledge and in particular the memory and recall as the lowest form of learning, but actually I'm beginning to think that it's more about focus and less about levels.  What I mean is that actually the memory process and the way we accumulate knowledge is a necessary part of learning, but it isn't learning. We learn by shaping what we know, have experienced, observed or conceive to change the picture.  Learning is somewhat akin to a chemical reaction; it can happen in a variety of ways but the outcome is a 'change' of state or substance.  What I mean is that when you learn something you change the shape (or state) of what you previously knew or you form a new concept (substance).  I've got to acknowledge that memory and the previous state is a combination of skills, experience and yes knowledge too. Damn it. But that's kind of my point, everything changes and there's a learning opportunity in everything.

So if we think chemical reaction, surely education is best set up like an experiment right? We control the variables and under a set of conditions we can guarantee the outcomes, after all if I want to change hydrogen and oxygen into water I can reproduce the result every time. The thing is that hydrogen and oxygen are elements, the simplest of substances that we can always predict the way they behave, could you describe people that way? Even at your own singular level, would you always react the same to learning new things or does it depend upon your mood, the time, how much money is in your account, the latest post on Facebook, the problems your friend is having etc etc?  So if it's an experiment it's not one we can completely control and herein lies the point, we can't isolate and control everything so learning isn't something we can completely prescript. So teaching is a bit different, we can set things we teach, we just can't guarantee the learning will be what we intended.

If this all sounds a bit desperate I really don't think it is.  Teaching doesn't equate to learning in a directly proportional arrangement but it sure as heck has a close relationship (otherwise we can all just pack up and go home).  What it might do is change the way we approach teaching; typically we've concentrated heavily on the transfer of knowledge and skills from teacher to student.  As a by the way here I have to say I don't understand the hate on the word student; it perfectly describes someone who is being taught something. The word learner may be the popular and politically correct version but if you've taken any notice yet on the above you'll know that someone is being taught X isn't necessarily learning X so sure, they're a learner, but it may not be a learner of X and under that definition everyone is a learner so it's a bit of a nothing term; let's roll with student you can be a student at any age and any stage of life. Back to my point, the teaching can't guarantee exact one for one learning for every student, this isn't a failing, just a scientific principle down to the inability to control all variables.  So teaching needs to change it's emphasis to stop trying to focus on the direct transfer of knowledge and skills and place a greater emphasis on in increasing the chances of success of our 'learning experiment' by setting the environment and behaviours.

Think about the best teachers you remember; what was it that made them stick in your memory and helped shape your early learning? I can bet that one of the biggest things was the way they made you feel about yourself and the way they inspired you.  Kicking that idea around a bit, we have the concept of inspiration; if someone inspires you it aligns some of those 'variables' and generates a desire for learning to take place that can override some of the other negatives that may otherwise act as inhibitors. The other half of that is the personal nature. When my high-school English teacher first inspired me, I really felt it was about me, not about one. We're all essentially linked to a singular perspective that is our own, personalising the teaching is a way to unlock potential in individuals.  Of course if you're teaching a class of 30 individuals how can you possibly achieve this? The answer is remarkably simple, 'you have to stop teaching and start enabling learning'. The shift needs to be off the teacher and on to the student and in recent years we've started to see a shift towards student-centred teaching. The teacher needs to provide the environment, the inspiration, the challenge and allow the student to personalise and take it further... read from page 59 and copy this off the board won't ever achieve that.

If you're involved in training in industry that's slightly different to the world of teaching and education as the outcome is usually task or skills based. Essentially you're looking at a competency based outcomes where students either can do what they need to do or they don't. Funny thing is that the exact same principles occur. You can measure whether or not they are able to do the 'thing' that they are supposed to under assessment conditions, but will they be able to do it tomorrow, in three weeks or nine months? The skills or abilities may fade or disappear altogether but it doesn't mean that nothing was learnt, it just means that was being learned may not have been exactly what was trained or more vitally that learning happens continuously and the formal training is just a small part of the learning (think along the lines of 70/20/10 here). With that in mind when you design training think the same way as for education; think about behaviours, environment and inspiring over and above the end result. It's the combination of training and the other pieces such as experience, watching others and the others we can't control that define what is learnt over time. Again, not a hopeless state it just means that the training isn't an isolated single hit that solves everything, it needs to inspire and facilitate learning rather than be the silver bullet cure.

So there you go in short, teaching and learning are related, but don't fall into the trap of thinking if you teach X then X is learnt. Instead if you teach an approach to finding out about X by inspiring and setting the environment, then the learner will have the skills to not only learn X but also to find out about Y and Z and keep up with X when it morphs into something completely different.

If you didn't learn something by reading that it's okay, I wasn't trying to teach you anything, but if you want to find out more or take it in a different direction then that's very cool and if you want to let me know about it I'm interested, but hey, that's not essential either :)

Friday, 15 April 2016

Is it time to base education around skills?

So if you, like me, have kids in education these days the likelihood is there’s some core subjects they cover and the likelihood is that these haven’t changed in the last 10, 20 or 50 years.  Maths, English, Science and then a combo of bits and pieces that make up the modern curriculum, but are we missing the point?  I’m not suggesting that the need for English or Maths has disappeared from modern life, but perhaps the emphasis has - or at least the context.  Before we get into the what, let’s start a little with the why.  Why do you need maths as a core skill for operating in today’s society - yes, money, yes bills, but beyond the very rudimentary side of maths, how much long-division do you need, let alone complex algebra or calculus.  So if I’m going to radically re-shape the education system and bring in a ‘new core’ of subjects, what are the key candidates? 

Investigation.  My key core subject that should fill every high-school curriculum front-page is investigation.  What I want from tomorrow’s workforce is the ability to move beyond face value and look, search, research and discover for themselves.  Such a skill isn’t above regurgitating anything but in finding things out.  It’s really more a skill than a subject I guess, but I want the next generation to be focussed less on knowledge and more on discovery.  This also means not just the what, but also the how and the why.  If we can get them to have enquiring minds then that’s an instantly employable trait.  You can also find some of your traditional subjects wrapped in here, this is what it really means to have a scientific approach.

Communication.  Seriously what skill could rate higher than the ability to effectively communicate with those around them.  This could take a large number of forms, from written, to electronic, face to face and through social media.  This isn’t your classical study of English literature through the ages but a key skill focussing on how to get the most from communications, how to express yourself clearly, how to speak and present to others. 

Empathy.  If there’s one thing that was definitely missing from my childhood education through a traditional European schooling system it was an almost total absence of empathy.  Empathy for those around you, family, friends, neighbours, distant relatives, local community, wider community, country, world and environment.  Maybe empathy isn’t the right word, maybe I’m trying to find the opposite of what I consider to be one of the hardest traits to reverse in the workforce today; apathy.  So take empathy as a sort of contraction of anti-apathy and you’ll get where I’m going with this I hope.  What I want from the next generation is a better ability to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others and walk around in them.  I nearly called this Politics believe it or not.  Not the kind of charade that the US politics has descended into, but the ability to be able to see things from more than one perspective - politics means the many faces or sides of an issue - a vital skill.

Teamwork.  I don’t care if it’s through sports or games, work groups or social groupings, but I want better working together as a direct output.  When we look for new employees we’re often after someone we think will fit in with the current group.  The ability to work as a part of a team is often an indirect output of schooling, but surely something so critical should be one of our primary concerns? 

Lifeskills.  This maybe a bit of cop-out on my side, but we need to teach kids how to be adults beyond communication and empathy.  How are you going to be able to pay your bills, work out money, ensure cloud systems remain in operation?  Who’s going to programme your ### system (insert relevant system here in the future once the ### is known).  This includes a level of digital fluency to keep up with the modern world, a view on what’s going on and a curriculum that moves as things change and is not set in a musty old text-book.  Maybe I should have called it ‘User skills’? The essence is so that you can do all the functions you need to exist in the modern world.

Creativity/Problem solving/Critical thinking - somewhere in here there's another area we need to focus on... is it critical thinking? Is it a problem solving skill or the use of creativity to solve issues?  I'm not sure, maybe it's an extension of 'Investigation' skill that I put right at the top.  Maybe that's the core and the rest are options...

What about those options now? You still want to go with religious education, food technology and French?  Not me, give me some options that I think will really be useful.

Leadership.  Sure, not everyone is going to excel at this one and that’s okay, but I want to know if they do, or at least if they have good potential in this area.  If you’re going to be a good leader then we should start you as young as possible with the why and how to lead so we don’t end up with the sort of managers that plague us today.

Engineering.  I don’t care what era you’re in there’s going to be a need for engineers of all shapes and kinds.  Maths is also a key part of this, not the core type maths you need to work out your bills and living, but the high-end maths required to really work out shizzle that’s important.

Science, maths, languages could all be here as advanced forms of investigation and communication and great options for those who really want to take things to the next level.

Creativity.  I'm not sure you can make everyone creative, but that doesn't mean creativity is limited to 'artistic types' either.  This type of skill would be a great complement to scientific subjects as much as artistic and could be used in the business world too.

I've not covered it all here, there's plenty missing and probably some of my ideas aren't right or at least not fully formed.  I think that the important thing is that we realise the core of education should be much more about skills and approaches than 'subjects'.  What do you think??

Thursday, 31 March 2016

What collaborative, online sharing tools do you use?

This isn't one of those posts where I try to claim I know the answers and you should read to become enlightened (hopefully I never really write like that at all).  This is about the way I work, want to work and look for ways to improve.  What I will do is mention two or three tools I like to use and why, then see if you can help me to come up with some more.  To put in context I love to work out loud, and I'm giving a presentation on the collaborative working and sharing and would like to spend part of that time on tools.  Part of being involved in collaboration and sharing is knowing you don't hold all the answers, so it would be great if someone out there would help a little with a comment or two to lead to some further investigation.  So, here's what I use and love, and where I need more help!

Google Apps
My Drive
If you're looking at collaborating then Google is a pretty damn good place to start. I'm always amazed still at the proportion of 'team' work that gets sent around on Excel or Word seeking input from others.  It seems like madness to me to deal with version control and shared drive spaces in an old-fashioned way, when great tools exist to enable us to work on the same spreadsheet or document at the same time from a variety of locations.  When you're in the apps, I love the way they show you who else is there (the anonymous animals are always good for a giggle too) and you can see live updates. My 13 year-old daughter does her homework in Google Docs and shares with me to help her edit!  Google Drive is enormously valuable too, with the huge amount of free storage offered even on a personal account it makes sharing of large files really easy.  Sites I find a bit clunky, but for a free service I can live with them too.  Of course you also get the most common email address and the way a large number of other apps allow you to sign-in with Google makes having a Google account a must in today's collaborative sharing world.  If you don't have a Google account I really don't understand why not.  I'm predominantly an Apple user and the account and apps play well in the Apple environment (I'm not a fan of Android as an OS but that's just me) and Windows - particularly if you use Chrome as your browser (if you're using IE still you've lost me again...). Yes there are limitations, things like Power View in Excel just don't have an equivalent in Sheets, but for 90% of what you're going to do, this suite is tops.

One of our Trello boards on development work
If there's been one go-to tool over the last few years for me it's been Trello.  This great little app/saas offering started out as a project management tool and is very good at that but is adaptable to so many other things.  When I describe it to people I say it's a bit like a big whiteboard, you put headings on it (lists) and then it's a post-it sticky system where you put as much or as little as you like on the 'cards' and can move them around.  It's collaborative in that other users can write on the cards, change the names of lists, add stickers, notes, attachments, links etc and everything updates real-time.  Chuck in there an audit record of everything that's going on and an active set of features that are regularly updated (and a good support community) it's a really versatile tool.  Log-in with Google of course and start building in a shared environment from the get go.  Great for teams, particularly where projects are involved or across organisation.

My Slack teams
Man I love Slack as a comms tool for teams, it's slick (which probably would have been a better name too!), can handle multiple teams and groups and is very very neat.  I love that you can tie it in with Trello boards and use it to communicate out changes and an easy way to track the changing picture on your Trello boards.  Slack isn't a way to engage the wider audience and reach the outside world - you have to know your teams first, but once set up it's a really powerful tool.  I do like the way you can have different emails, different domains etc and Slack is happy and doesn't care whether you're Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome or whatever - just good quick comms across the group with private and limited areas really easy to setup.  One of the good things is very simple, just adding a set of reactions to say you've seen things, and the reduction effect this has on unnecessary emails is more than welcome.

Much maligned but Twitter is another go-to collaborative tool for me.  I know people spend a lot of time setting up lists etc, but my favourite thing about Twitter is that it's a quick and easy way to get stuff out there.  If Slack is about teams and optimum work in exclusion, for me Twitter is the other end of the spectrum - inclusion to everyone.  Once you embrace that Twitter can be a really fun environment.  When I publish a blog like this, the first thing I'll do is pop a link to it up on Twitter to direct traffic here (okay, light traffic, but traffic all the same).  If you need help, where better to ask for it than in public? The use of hashtags means that your needle in a haystack request now has a beacon attached and the more you interact the more you get out of it.  When you think about avoiding silos this is where Twitter can really come in to its own and if you're like to learn things that you want to find out about (self-directed learner) then try searching and reading through this great little curation tool.  Yes, yes, I know Twitter isn't a curation tool per se, but if a great article has been written, it's usually been discussed or shared on Twitter too...

Yes Facebook and LinkedIn deserve a mention because like the rest of the world I use them, I particularly like the closed groups on Facebook (sports teams are a lot easier to run these days) and LinkedIn I use but often in a way I feel is a bit fake (I'm not sure what my professional persona is, but that's where you'll probably find it).  I think Zoom is a great tool for video (remember when Skype was our go-to tool?), Blab seemed a bit quirky but I didn't quite get on with it in the early days because it crashed a lot so I don't really do that much...

Every tool I've mentioned here also happen to be FREE.  I only mention it here so you can see that free tools aren't my priority as such, but the fact that they can work together without charging the end user is like the Swiss flag; a big plus :)

So there we go... this list definitely needs building and working on - want to help to achieve that? Add a comment to this blog or email me: or find me on Twitter @The_NthDegree

Oh, and if you hate the tools I like, cool, let me know what's better :)

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Continuous Improvement Killers

I'm a huge fan of continuous improvement or (given my adversity to #wankywords) always looking for better ways to do things. The problem is that whilst some of us are keenly looking for improvement, others are more interested in maintaining the status quo - here's the most dangerous improvement killers out there:

Reverse engineering.  This is the subtlest of the improvement killers but it's also one of the most harmful. Dressed up as accepting change what this often looks like is a rose with a quick change of name that still looks and smells the same.  A great example of this is when changing training materials - in education we often get a new qualification or a change say from competency based assessments to achievement based - we can change the qualification, the assessments, but often the teaching teams want to 'adapt' what they currently have.  In essence this means teaching exactly the same material under a different title and killing the opportunity to really make things better.  Sometimes a big improvement opportunity calls for big changes not just tweaks.  Sometimes we can't break through to the next level without leaving the last one behind, scary as that might be.

Don't throw the baby out... We've all heard this one too and in some ways it's related to the one above.  Sure we need to change the bathwater, but the baby stays right? Yes... sometimes.  Sometimes the metaphoric baby was the problem in the first place.  Sometimes our metaphor is a bit twisted too - the baby is the bit we need to change and the bathwater was okay, but it's all changed around depending on who you need to speak to.  Ask yourself this question; if we were starting from scratch, would we do it this way? You might then be able to at least work out what needs to go.

We've tried that and it didn't work.  How many times have you had a suggestion bounced back because it's been tried before but didn't work?  Reality is that this is another way of saying that 'it ain't broke don't fix it'.  It's possible that they have tried it before and maybe it didn't work, but everything changes and often as not there's a whole raft of reasons why initiatives haven't worked, some of those may well have changed.  You do need to learn from the past and things that have been tried, but you also need to be able to revisit past ideas with a fresh perspective and recognise the opportunity for improvements are no more set in stone than the thing you are trying to improve.

If it ain't broke... Okay so I used this phrase above, but it's important to note that there's a whole world of people out there who believe that something being okay is good enough.  I don't believe in 'best practice' but I do believe in opportunities to improve always being there.  Great it works, could it work better?  Even when I'm told (maybe especially when I'm told) this is best practice (stay calm) I want to ask 'Is there a better way of doing this?'.  Even if it was the best for a given point in time with a given set of people and conditions, those things change, is it still as good as it can be?

We don't have time.  Now you're just pushing my buttons! This is one of the most frustrating things in business, the illusion of a lack of time or a perceived level of 'busy' that prevents looking for better ways to do things.  If you don't have time to find efficiency savings for example, then you actually have to accept that you're okay wasting time.  It's like someone offering you a $20 dollar note for a $10 and you turning it down because you only had $12 and you can't afford it...

Best Practice. Sorry, had to add this in, I know I referred to it, but it doesn't exist and so it's a killer to continuous improvement because it infers something is 'concrete'.  This is the best and so decreed that it will always be so. BS. If something is in reality the absolute best (and I'm not even sure that is a reality given the amount of subjectives at play), it's the best then and there only, with those circumstances and conditions, people, time etc. everything changes and so does your practice need to.

People.  I didn't really want to say people because I like to think that everyone would change for the better given the opportunity, but the reality is that some people won't ever change and sometimes we just need to move around them, over them, through them or whatever else works to actually get effective improvements.  I'm not ready to give up on most people this easily, but there are some people that simply resist any sort of change even if it means huge benefits for them.

That's it, I'm fairly well done on the subject for today at least, but just like the content of this blog, this list is subject to change and improvement.  Have I missed something? Almost certainly, so feel free to add comments or ideas to mine...

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Making a difference

Let me make this clear, this isn't a self-help article, nor is it a new or innovative technology that will change your life for better.  I'd love to start a really cool trend, or better still something to solve some of the socio-economic issues for New Zealand or be able to solve the climate change and world peace issues.  Heck I'd settle for being able to change the culture of where I work, maybe have a positive affect on... well, something, anything eh?

Just in case you're wondering if I've forgotten to take my lithium this morning, I really haven't, but I've been grappling with a few things recently, and it reminds me of why.  Why we do what we do, why we're motivated to go to work, why we're playing sport and why we bring children into this world.  Sure, there's things like money, there's belonging, there's whanau (family to you non-Kiwi types) and friendship, but for me there's one ultimate motivator in just about everything I do; it's making a difference.

Problem is it sounds so cliched doesn't it?  Try using 'I want to make a difference' in your next job interview and you'll likely find them repulsed by your answer, but really, this is the heart of where I am and I think, and maybe hope, that it's also the resonating fact for others out there.  I go to work because it's a necessity no doubt, family is kinda counting on the income to pay things like mortgages, food, clothing and those things you could roll up and call money.  But I spoke with some of my WOL circle friends last week and we agreed it would be great if we didn't have to work for financial reasons so that we could fully help others.  We'd still work, but it wouldn't be for anything as mundane as money, it would be to help others; to make a difference.  If I didn't have to work would I? Yes, just in a slightly different way, but still money isn't really a good enough reason to do anything..

Work satisfaction for me comes down to just that single element.  If I can't make a difference I'm not sure I want to work where I'm working.  Here's the thing, I usually write around learning and learning technologies and I think making a difference links in especially powerfully here.  When I was a teacher, the subject was never the thing for me, it was the connections, it was the belief that by connecting with students I could actually have a positive influence on their life.  If I could help them to establish a scientific type mind to question things around them I felt I was making a difference (rather than the science I was actually teaching).  If what you're doing doesn't make a difference, why do it?  That's the huge demotivating factor people face in their workplaces... it's also true of so much learning material.

eLearning has great examples of non-difference making stuff.  Page turning, boring, fact stating stuff that doesn't challenge thought, doesn't make a difference.  Learning technologies are in a great position to clutch in to technological advances and leverage those to make an even greater difference.  How can we use the advances in social media, connections, wearable and affordable technology to help people shape their learning?  Not how can we turn a book into an online version and bore people in a whole new way.

This all fits with how I see learning as being pervasive and the opportunities for learning being everywhere and continuous rather than a series of planned discrete events.  I believe that what we learn shapes us as it flows around and through us - it's not a series of what I learned but how I am evolving and changing due to what I've seen, done and been learning on the way.  So for me making a difference is about shaping too, can what you do at work or in your general life help to shape that environment as well as shaping yourself along the way.

Shaping.  Maybe that's the answer if you're in an interview.  I want to be a part of shaping this and I'm happy for it to shape me on the way.... yeah, I want to make a difference.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Busy busy busy - what does this even mean?

It seems that whenever you ask anyone how their work is these days you get the same response; 'it's busy'.  We've kind of taken the word busy and used it to describe an almost constant state of work.  I had someone in my team say they were too busy for planning at one point, which does make me scratch my head. How can you be too busy to take stock and plan your day? Surely that in itself means, as it did in this case, that the person risks wasting time working on stuff that's been overtaken by events? The problem isn't the fact that we're busy as such - it's more that we're so petrified of being classed as lazy or inactive that we feel there's a certain expectation that busy is the right state to be in.  Let's straighten this one out and dig a bit deeper.

Most people might class me as busy. I work a lot, hold down a full-time job with leadership and management responsibilities, run a company, have a wife and kids, got a dog that needs walking, always got projects on and need to decorate the house etc etc.  I don't consider any of this to be a negative fact. I very rarely miss lunch (food in general is high on my priority list), I don't work ridiculously long hours in the traditional sense, I've been known to waste time looking at crap on the internet and I'm not immune to a bit of 'Facebooking' either.  I've got a team of ten here and I like to think that on pretty much any day one of them can bring issues to me and I've got capacity to help them with that or at least talk through the options.

I'm not scared either to have a team meeting and let the team know I have capacity this week if they need any help with what they're working on.  In fact I'd go further and say that this is not a luxury for leadership, it's a necessity. Being too busy to make time for people that work for you sends out lots of messages about what's the most important part of your job - surely it should be them?

Okay okay, so what if you're not in a management position? What if you're a worker bee, diligently pushing through an ever-expanding over-crowded inbox? Firstly it's great to be able to have an understanding of what you can and can't achieve. If the amount of work you can do in your allotted hours is less than the tasks you have then you can just work away blindly or you can take some action.  You can reflect on your own practice and see if there's ways to do things more efficiently, you can ask for help, you can prioritise and most importantly you must communicate the struggles.

The real problem with busy though is when it's entirely self-induced and not linked to outputs.  How many people are busy but don't seem to actually be doing anything? I 'waste' time during my day.  I don't take formal breaks as such, but if I want to look at Fb or read the news that's what I do. I take time to drink a cuppa or walk over and see others some times.  Some times I listen to music and sometimes I blog, answer personal emails and even watch the odd video.  I think this is fine and here's why.  When I'm at home, I check my work emails and have a work phone.  If someone calls me when I'm busy with my other stuff, I speak to them if I can, I might take some action or make notes to follow up depending on what I have on.  Work has leaked into home life, so it's only fair to some extent that home life leaks into work. In fact work and home are just a part of my life and in order to do the best at that I need to be myself.

One thing's for sure is that you need to spend some time during the day doing what gives you pleasure - be that reading a newspaper or blogging or reading last night's results. Busy is not an excuse for missing out on the human interactions though, these are the fun parts too and the bits that we need.  If your calendar is over flowing with 'crap' then you need to find a way to free yourself from it, look at how you spend your time and how effective you are.

So yes, I'm busy if you like, but not too busy, never too busy to talk with people and enjoy my work life just like my home life :)

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The awesome power of words and how to use them for good

One of my pet hates is abbreviations.  This coming from a man who spent a dozen years in the military, but there's a fair reason why I'm anti the use of abbreviations in general, they're usage perpetuates a divide; you either know what they mean and can use them or you don't.  If you get a briefing that the NSA doesn't know about the TEC plans to RTB in DQT that's fine if you know what all the abbreviations stand for, but not if you don't know them all, or worse if you think you know them but you get it wrong.  Thing is even if you do know what the words mean do the abbreviations really help? It's a bit like using a long word because it sounds impressive even if it's usage isn't really 100% correct.

That's hate number two in language.  Our use of super-clever long words to display our intellect and again seek to divide the smart people from the masses.  If I have to go look up the words you use to me then surely some of the very impact you may have been hoping for has been lost - unless of course the impact was to let me know what an extensive vocabulary you have.  If you think something is too long there's no shame in saying that, you could say that it's of protracted duration but what do you add besides protracting the duration?  I'm a firm believer that a smaller vocabulary used to express what you believe in trumps an extended vocabulary used to show how big and clever you are - the focus should be on your argument and your reasoning not how to exclude others from it.  Don't get me wrong sometimes the best word is a long one, some words give a greater impact and can carry the weight of five shorter words, but the decision should be made with consideration for who your potential audience is too.  I've reported to some pretty important folks at time, but I've never felt the burning need to try to vamp up my language to match their expectations.  Am I wrong? Do they treat me with disdain because of my lack of a highly extended vocabulary?  I doubt it, but I can live with it if they do, at least they know what I mean.

Pet hate three comes in the form of those oh so awesome sounding buzz words and phrases.  Micro-learning, Personal Learning Network, Knowledge Management, Social
Anything, Micro-Anything, Learners, Learning Anything, Anything Learning.  Whilst I apologise for using swear words on Twitter recently I stand by my criticism of 'Wanky Words' that get so regularly used particularly in the learning area.  I'm usually upset enough at the definition 'learners' implying that they're a special sub-breed of human, but going as far as further defining just drives me nuts.  We actually need to stop grabbing trending words and bandying them around as if they convey the power behind them to change the world.  All they do is alienate again or add a sense of science where it doesn't belong.  If something sounds super technical and cool, there's a concept that we can sell it easier, when the reality is we end up shovelling the same stuff and perpetuating rubbish science.

The biggest thing though is that words are here to help us to explain things to others and we need that at the heart of our communication.  Words as weapons? No, not unless your intention is to hurt someone.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, but the power is not in the alienation or the attack of the others, but in the ways we can connect, interact and share.

My final point comes from a few Twitter chats I've seen bouncing around.  What's your inspiring word for the year?  You can imagine the buzz words that fly given that sort of challenge.  How about instead of picking a word for the year, you aim for using your words only to help others - the individual words and phrases will take care of themselves if you have that type of intention.

Love to hear your opinion... am I off? Are words best served in a cleverly constructed way to ensure the picture is accurate? Or what's your word for the year? Happy to take it further or shut up if need be!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Quantification Conundrum - what are we learning?

I've been struggling with this as a post for so long I'm not sure how to go with it.  We seem so obsessed these days with quantifying things that it seems like we're missing the main learnings.  I've alluded to it before, touched on some of the daft measures we use and levels of accuracy that are so artificial as to be ridiculous.  I've also talked a fair bit in the past around our obsession with discrete learning objectives and the learning world's obsession with them, often at the detriment of learning ironically enough.  I know that there's a need for measures of sort, and if you're strictly in the compliance world then it's all good (actually it's probably not, but that one will wait for another post) but have we got this all wrong?  

When we put things in boxes we have to remember that we're making an approximation. The world isn't black and white, in fact we have to remember it isn't discrete shades of colours either, it's a truly analogue world.  What do I mean here? As the world becomes increasingly digital it's really important that we remember that it's not really digital at all, there are no simple states - all models are inherently an approximation of reality.  For example, we can measure the temperature of some warm water.  We can use our hand and determine that it's 'warm'.  We can use a thermometer - let's say the thermometer say the water is about 40 degrees celcius (or 104 F if you're that way inclined).  Want more accuracy? Great let's use a digital thermometer - it reads 39.7C - now we're getting more accurate right? Not really actually, even if the digital thermometer has a very high level of calibration, we're still converting temperature from an analogue (or continuous) state to a digital one with discrete values - inherently an approximation.  If we were able to look closely at the analogue thermometer we'd see that line hovering around the 40 mark, if we had more marks we may be able to get that number more accurate? Say we had 0.1 indicators and we could see the line now sitting around the 39.7 - guess what, we're still using a digital scale to measure against and converting analogue to digital ourselves using that scale.  In actual fact the temperature of the water is what it is, but no matter how many digits we put in to a measure it doesn't actually make it more accurate.  In fact our initial assessment of 'warm' is no worse in many ways than the 39.74322 degrees we can get on our uber expensive digital meter - the reality is that the temperature is what it is, regardless of what scale we put it on.  The whole scale, be it Farenheit, Celcius or even Kelvin is only an artificial measure that we've created to make understanding temperature easier.

Come to think of it, all the classification that we learned in biology is similar in that it's an approximation - useful to us, but inherently inaccurate.  Let's take the most basic of classifications that's used in plants; fruits and vegetables, when is a veggie really a fruit? We know that tomatoes are officially a fruit right? What about cucumbers, peppers, advocadoes, string beans? All fruits officially from a science perspective.  And these are examples with pretty black and white descriptions like whether or not they have the seeds (don't start with strawberries as they're apparently pretty controversial).  So rhubarb isn't a fruit okay, it's a veggie of sorts - that is if we could agree on the definition of what a vegetable was.  And there's the point.  Classification relies upon absolutes.  Classification is just black and white with a few more well-defined shades thrown in - a digital approach to an analogue world.

I'm sure some of you are aware of the observer effect in physics? In layman's terms this is when things change by measuring them.  We see this plenty in the learning world, when we start to measure feedback or assess students it changes behaviours and has an effect on both teaching and learning.  This seems great for learning, knowing that by measuring what we're doing we're affecting it, perfect, measure away!  But there's more to it, I've also touched on Quantum Mechanics before and the ideas of things like Schrodinger's cat and furthermore Heinsberg's Uncertainty Principle.  In essence these things tell us there's only so much we can really 'know'.  As we measure and observe one thing, something else changes and each known unveils another unknown.  Combining this again with another high-level theory (relativity of sorts) we get a system where when we measure something we change it, when we get that measurement we lose sight of another measurement and the 'fact' we have determined is only relative - true in that instant and with other unknowns! It's probably fair to ask do we know more at this point than we did before we measured?

Okay, too much physics.  Let's look at this in simpler logic terms.  When we say by the end of this course you will learn XYZ, it means we have to accurately define XYZ and then measure against it for a point in time for all students.  What about the next week, the next month, year, decade?  What are we actually measuring? Using our simplistic quantification of learning is only true (even if it were properly and accurately measured) at the instance it is was measured.  Now add to that the issues in measuring XYZ.  Writing effective assessments is a difficult task for the most experienced of learning designers and testing beyond recollection of 'knowledge' is probably the minority.  So our learning objectives tend to rely heavily first upon a classification that we've already seen is somewhat of an approximation; a digital version of the analogue world.  They tend to be badly designed and badly measured too - so we end up with an approximation with dodgy measurements, that's only good for when it's measured; how good do those learning objectives really look?

Now let's add some more of those oh-so dodgy classification types into our learning to further make things foggy.  How about learning 'types' - remember when everyone was hot on auditory learners etc? Back to our point earlier around quantifying and classifying; there's no such thing as an auditory learner - it's a simplistic approximation of the way some people may learn best; and even that's been questioned in recent years. How about those Myres-Briggs personality types - heck, I'm still unsure at 44 whether I'm an introvert or an extrovert let alone the deeper analysis - and just because I was an extrovert yesterday doesn't mean I'll be one tomorrow either or I'll take that role consistently throughout an exercise.

You could also kind of twist uncertainty principles in here again when we talk digital and analogue.  The more highly defined something becomes the less confidence we can actually have in its accuracy.  In learning objectives does that mean the more SMART we make them, the less smart they really are? Maybe, but what it really means is that the deeper we try to classify something, the less sure we can actually be we've got it exactly in the right place.

So that's kind of the conundrum we face, the more me quantify the less confident we can be about what we've defined.  As a friend of mine once said in a drunken moment 'the more you know, the less you know, aye, know what I mean?'

Friday, 8 January 2016

Scoring an Own-Goal in Life and Learning

Well if ever there was a time of year to talk about goals it inevitably seems to come up around the start of a new year... I've got issues with this and I'll come on to them shortly, but for now let's take a look at goals, what they are and how to avoid putting the ball in the back of your own net (football anecdote - soccer to some of you too).  These days it's pretty trendy to have goals all round isn't it?  The look of horror and disgust on your friends' faces if you admit to drifting through an entire year without having a well-defined and documented personal goal - let alone the work goals.

Now before I get too far in to this let me start by saying I've got nothing against goals - in football it's frustrating and sometimes even depressing sitting through 90 minutes without one - but I do believe we have a tendency to over-analyse and put too much detail in to our goals.  We had a discussion on this on #pkmchat this week and I couldn't help but be drawn back to when I was a child and had my heart set on being a stunt-man like my childhood hero Lee Majors in The Fall Guy.  It was fairly well articulated in that I was happy to discuss it with anyone who cared to listen, but I didn't have a ten-step plan and neither, as it turned out, was it terribly realistic.  Does that mean my 'goal' aged 7 was a bad one? Probably, but maybe not for the reasons we may have it pegged as.

Firstly if you really want to do your goals an injustice make them really easy and if possible really un-inspiringly dull.  If my goal at 7 was to be able to ride a bike or walk to the shops I would have achieved the goal, ticked it off and reaped the awards.  Well, kinda.  I did those
things and sometimes little things were an achievement both back then and now - but if I was always going to achieve them then putting them as a goal seems pointless.  I might as well have said breathe in and out was a goal (one I'm glad to still be achieving at this point at least).  If your work goal is to hit a target that you know you're going to make easily regardless of how much effort you put in, then well, yes, it's a pointless exercise that really doesn't make you a better person or worker.  On the flip side of that there's a certain futility in setting goals that you'll never achieve.  I'm a bit of a dreamer so I'm all for those big hairy audacious goals that will really push you, but if you set them in the realm of those that you know in your heart you'll never do then they're a de-motivator rather than a motivator.

Modern self-help literature may have told you that it's essential that you write down your goal and tell as many people as possible to increase chances of success.  This definitely can hold some truth, particularly if you often lack self-motivation, but it really does depend on what your goal is and how you want to achieve it.  I do think it's daft to make a goal, write it down and tell everyone about it and then just not bother to do much about it. You'd be better off keeping it to yourself and achieving than sharing and doing nothing.  In fact, whilst we're on the whole achieving or not thing, it's great to share what you're doing and how it's going, but don't just share when things go well, we learn and get so much from what we don't achieve, particularly when we try to do our best and still don't meet the targets we set.  You may not achieve what you set out to do, but often the achieving of goals is less important than what we've learnt along the way... so if you're after that own-goal again try making sure your goal is totally achievable (if not easy as above) and that you brag like hell about it after you get there.

Make it complicated! Everyone knows that the more complex and clever sounding a thing is the better it must be. Don't go for simple goals like 'do a bungee jump', make sure it's a specific type of jump involving a bunch of conditions, the right temperature, participating friends, the right location, before the 15 December this year, the time of day, the colour of the rope etc etc.  In fact, here we go, let's make it SMART - you all know that acronym right? Specific (tick), Measurable (tick), Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.  Inwardly I groan at these type of things that we've been taught from day one it seems.  Don't get me wrong, there are times we need to get specific and we need some conditions at time - but if I'd set this up and done a different bungee jump on the wrong coloured rope on the 18 December would my achievement of the goal be invalid?

You can only set goals in January.  Just remember that just like resolutions or changes of any sort we put aside a specific time for them and after that the window closes and you're doomed. Don't try and give me that flexibility mumbo-jumbo - you either get ready for the 1 Jan or forget it.

The end totally justifies the means - succeed at all costs.  Don't get drawn in to the journey argument, you know the only important thing is that you can tick off the goal at the end of the day/week/month/year.  Your success will be totally measured on the ability to achieve the original goal you set no matter what occurs.  Make sure your goal is set nicely in reinforced concrete - what good is a goal that changes with your life? I should be judged purely on my 7 year old goal (okay, it's closer to 40 years ago, but it was the goal I set back then) and it's pretty damn important that I make it to be a stunt-man or my whole life has been wasted. 

Okay, so tongue out of cheek, it's hopefully clear that we don't have to be super anal to set and use goals in life.  We have to remember a couple of things; firstly is that the idea of a goal is to inspire you to achieve something and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) the achievement of the goal itself isn't necessary the measure of success. On my failed career as a stunt-man I've actually enjoyed some of the learnings and hopefully had some positive influence without breaking as many bones.

Oh learning you say?  Well here's the thing, read all of the above and replace the word 'goal' with learning objectives and ask yourself if learning can take place without them?