30 Nov 2007

Are we good at change?

Well, no of course. We resent it. I resent it. I'm not saying we don't see the advantages of it. We're even eager to change, but we don't like transitions. This is what makes change hard.

When we see e-learning take off in our institutions, we often have success in a first phase. The trouble starts in the second phase, when people are used to good content with good support and active coaching. Then they suddenly discover that the distance to teachers is almost gone. And guess what happens next? The learner realizes he or she is in control of the experience. So then the learning institutions find themselves in the position of being transparent in the learning experience and entirely oblique in the management and curriculum processes.

To conclude for now, can we change our structures to accommodate the new expectations of learners? I really can't say, but it will probably be inevitable and the best adapted organizations will be the ones that are most open to change to follow this movement. Change management will have to evolve into an ongoing process, as it already is in commercial organizations.

29 Nov 2007

Mobile learning objects and subjects

Mobile learning is hot and will only become steamier. But lest we burn ourselves, perhaps one or two comments from m-learning speeches and conversations at Educa.

On the job training and especially on the spot training is perhaps the most interesting form of training. It doesn't require the worker to leave her or his workplace and can be organized in the most versatile way.

First of all, m-learning is mostly m-training. This means it's mainly about small objects being ported to mobile devices. Not only device characteristics cause this, but also the learning itself. With the new portable devices such as Playstation Portable, the first constraint is partly lifted. This means that true m-learning will become more feasible. What's still needed is a good educational approach to the m-objects.

Second, it means teachers will become coaches even faster, because training and learning is out of the controlled environments.

The first remark will get solved through technology. The question I'd like answered is, will the teachers like coaching?

And the answer of course is: they must.

In some conversations during the Special Interest Group lunch, I was told that coaches/teachers are welcoming the new tools as they are so much faster and easier to use. The trouble lies more with the institution management which is concerned its teachers will not want to adapt to the new model. So my question is valid, even though the barriers are not with the coaches but more in the social organizations and the management.

Why authority is suspect

Authority is no more. And let's be thankful it is. I just attended the speech from Andrew Keen and his frightening message of internet killing our wisdom. I think it's a load of soft smelly street ornament.

I won't go into the exact contents of his speech. It can easily be found in his book, on the web and perhaps he'll try shoving it down your throat as well.

What I will focus on, is the underlying message of elitism. Unpopular though hippies may be nowadays, they did one important thing and that is do away with authority. I don't mean there are no longer people who are experts in a subject. It does imply that expertise in one field no longer leads to authority beyond that. Or even of authority in the field itself.

Is this necessarily bad? It is if you like authority. It is not if you prefer genuine experiences. In general, authority inhibits true delving into the other as a person. It requires formal obligations to be observed which are generally counterproductive in achieving true interaction. And in learning, true interaction - both live and virtual - is the prime objective (apart from the others, such as don't disturb foreign worlds with a lower level of development).

So authority is not bad just because it's not democratic. Democracy is a lofty goal, not a label you can stick on something, though that's a different discussion. Authority is bad because it keeps us from being our true selves. If I am put in the role of expert and others expect me to be an authority, it prevents me from expressing my doubts which are inherent and necessary in any learning environment. If I can be just a contributor, my expertise can be judged objectively.

We don't need another generation of power hungry authority figures. And especially not male ones.

Recognize the model? Male, ageing, expert: the professor. Yesterday's authority.

Web 2.0 liberates us from him. Let's keep it this way. Collaboration does that.

28 Nov 2007

In-company e-learning for theoretical backgrounds

There seems to be a quite radical fissure between the models of pricing for e-learning in academia and business. While in business the main focus is on measured progression of skills, University students are more attracted to the advantages in term of experience. Skills are perhaps still not measured as much in university as in businesses.

The question one might have, and certainly the one I continually contemplate, is what exactly is measured.

In traditional business training, often procedures are taught. An acquired skill can be measured on the job or at the end of the training. Much less attention is given to the underlying views and principles as this would require a more theoretical exam. Perhaps what the business context might use e-learning for is exactly this. Training is often quite fast in a class environment, but conceptual knowledge is sometimes considered too boring or even unnecessary for in-company training.

If we accept this to be normal practice, we could also enhance the learning experience for company training by providing interesting background materials for the in-class training through e-learning.

27 Nov 2007

Off to Berlin

Tonight I'll be in Berlin, at the Online Educa Conference. It'll be intense and hopefully also . We're a slightly bigger delegation, two from last year's one. I hope to find enough inspiration to blog live from some of the talks.

I brought my camera to make it slightly less boring so I'm all set to go. Weather's typical for this time of year, cloudy with some drizzle. Last year it was sunny but cold. Taking pictures would have been easier then, but I didn't bring a camera as I was there only two days. Well, you can't always get what you want.

I visited the Copendia site yesterday and it seems interesting enough. Though they seem mostly to work commercially, I wonder if other ways of exchanging materials would also be possible. I'll be sure to get a demo of their software and the technical underpinnings.

Time to empty my desk and hit the road - or rather, the sky.

20 Nov 2007

Computers are not machines

Interesting times indeed. I attended an interesting session on networking yesterday and I want to tell about one of its ideas I took home with me.

Teaching kids computers is a bad idea. Of course, I mean something entirely different from what you just read. But, nevertheless, it remains a bad idea to teach kids about computers in the way we teach them anything else.

Hello kids.
This is a computer. It's a machine and you can turn it on.
Now switch it on, the button is like this.
When the computer has started, which usually takes a while (unless it's an Apple or the latest processor), type this: student_usr123 and then take the mouse.

The mouse is the little oval thing on a wire next to the keyboard. You can use it to point at things.

Now we will learn how to point at things.

Meanwhile, 80% of class has already typed in user name and password, and has just discovered that some websites are blocked, but they can still download their favorite Messenger software. They can't install it, though. That's been disabled.

Now the 20% of pupils who have taken a little longer to log in, are exploring the desktop environment. Meanwhile, one has already crashed Explorer and is now asking attention from the teacher.

Sounds vaguely familiar? It's the way we teach computers. We show how to type, point and click. We show Word and you can type in it, too. Excel can be used as a calculator, but we'd never allow it. For calculus you have pocket calculators. the computer is a tool for more important things.

Never mind the fact that 95% of my use of Excel in the last five years was for adding or other simple calculations. Excel is a serious application. No playing here, kids.

I hope my point has already been made, otherwise I'm quite prepared to spell it out: computers are boring.

Not because they are, but we make them to be so.

But luckily, most kids already know computers are much more fun. You can play with them in ways most adults have never known. The trouble is, not all of our kids get the opportunity to use computers outside school. It's an important observation, into which I will not go now.

What's more disturbing, is the fact that kids learn that adults can even make something as exiting as computers dull. So when they grow up, they know they don't want to do the thing adults do.

So now I'll hint to what to do.
A pupil is interested in something not many other kids are into, something to do with painting, for instance. As a teacher , you might encourage this by letting her or him paint, read about painting etcetera.

But you could also treat the computer that is standing around the way it should be, and let that kid visit newsgroups, chat rooms, anything about painting. You might want to keep an eye on this or make sure the connection is with other pupils of the same age.

Imagine that learning curve! Think of the awe the others might have for someone in such a special social network. And this way, I come to my main point: the computer is social. All interactivity is learning. Even bad experiences provide useful learning possibilities.

Children will learn computers if they realize there is someone on the other end that can teach them something they want to know. Maybe they'll even learn how to type. But they don't want to learn about computers. Perhaps some do and we know quite well how to teach them that. Perhaps some have difficulties using the machine, and we have to make sure they get opportunities, too. But other than that, computers are not machines. They are long distance voices.

13 Nov 2007

Distribute and delegate

I've come across several people trying to find a solution to collaboration on e-learning projects. What often happens, is local security concerns prohibit thorough co-operation. This is due to genuine concerns. No administrator wants to allow anyone on their company e-learning workspace.

So how can we solve the availability paradox? One way to solve it, is organize our e-learning in a distributed way. This would mean e.g. not charging per person, but per use. So if I got access to an e-learning object, I would be charged not for merely seeing it, but every time I accessed it. This allows fast access for a small fee.

This is a model which encourages fast learning. Of course, it might also conflict with, for instance, a social policy of a company or institution. Slow learners would be punished for something they've no control of. And since speed of learning is generally distributed along class lines, lower class people with fewer available funds might have it harder to acquire knowledge online than higher-class people.

By this I am not saying lower class people are dumb. I am saying - and this has been proven - that lower income generally (statistically) coincides with slower pace of learning. Add to that an often lower adaptation of use of computers, and it will be clear that a pay-per-view in online learning is a flawed concept.

Unless you could distribute it, of course. If you could distribute access to learning systems, you could charge per view with a correction to the amount you charge to each participant. So for instance, I distribute my user accounts to a social organization to make e-learning content available to their public, and they pay a smaller amount per view of an object than I would normally charge, they can fulfill their social mission and I can gain customers for my e-learning.

The alternative is that I take care of the user registration for them, which means burdening my processes and business with a lot of the things I would rather not be doing, as well as having to devise systems to replicate that which they are already doing; which is to identify their clientele.

So my suggestion would be to take a solution which exists today in the management of portal sites. If I work with trusted partners, and I let them handle their user management on my system, I don't have to worry about the user access and can still diversify my marketing policies. It might take some training and some good agreements, but after that, distribution will take the bottlenecks from many systems.

It only takes some trust.

In todays world, this is sometimes hard to get, but priceless once obtained.

8 Nov 2007

Versions and histories in e-learning

What is a learning object? When we build repositories of them, can we fase old objects out while installing new ones? The problem with collaboration is maintaining the validity of all the material that is present. A learning object could be very useful but when it becomes obsolete, all the links to it have to be updated.

Since many objects come from projects, this requires not only the managers to know what is in their own databases, but also if the originator of the object has since decided to replace an object.

It makes public repositories of learning objects necessary, unless we want to have different versions of objects active at the same time.

I have no idea how to manage the version problem. How can a backtrack of learning objects be established that never loses each object's origin? This is an interesting question to which I don't have the answer. Perhaps it is a new form of metadata, perhaps it calls for repositories with histories.