Podcast: What’s in your #EdTech bag (#EdTechRations)

Nearly two years ago I was invited to appear on Vicki Davis’ Every Classroom Matters podcast to talk about self-publishing books and to give advice to teachers and educators on what to do and how to do it. Last month I was again invited by Vicki to appear on her new ’10-Minute Teacher Show’, this time to talk about our choice for technology we choose to buy for ourselves, for own use and our own bags/pockets. This follows up on my last book, the ‘Emergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?

David Hopkins, author of Emergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?, talks about the educational technology that educators around the world carry in their bags and pockets.

In the podcast Vicki and I briefly discuss bags, pockets, cables, charging, devices, technology, connectivity, connected lives, and many many more EdTech-relevant things.   

Listen to the podcast on the link here – What’s in Your Edtech Bag: Trends and Tools from Educators and the World – or on the embedded player below:

Improving your (Blackboard) course

Here are a few of my initial thoughts on finding myself a Blackboard user again after a four year absence. These are based on my recent experience in picking up on courses designed by others, co-designing courses with Keypath colleagues and eight years as a Bb user and those memories of how frustrated I used to get with Bb! Think of this as a check-list for your course.

  1. Descriptions – There is no reason why a folder, file or activity does not have even a short descriptor available. It takes such a short time to write one, so do it. Give the student a reason to click the title (no, ‘click here’ does NOT count!). What is the file or folder about? What do you expect them to do with the information or activity when they click the link? Put the link contents into context of the course, unit or week subject. Give them a purpose!
  2. Naming convention – Adopt a naming convention for your files and folders, and stick to it. Ideally this should be used consistently across the whole course or programme, not just your own modules. Think about the file or folder or activity in isolation … which looks better: ‘week_1.pdf‘ or ‘Accounting1.pdf‘ or ‘MD001_Week_1_Acocunting_Introduction.pdf‘. 
  3. Dates – If you’re re-using a Bb course and have rolled it over (see, I’m getting right back into the terminology here!) then please, please please check and re-check any and all dates? This is one reason why I never liked to use dates for adaptive release on content as this would make the rollover such a massive job, with a very real scope for some adaptive release settings to be missed. Get it wrong and students won’t be able to see or use your course. Also double check the grade centre for any and all dates. If in doubt, delete previous assignments and start from scratch.
  4. Links – Check all links, and not just to see if they work. Check they go to the right website or webpage and that it is still the right page/site you need (check for errors too). If you link to other Bb or institutional pages these are also available to your new students; either they need permission or you should move/copy the page to somewhere where they can access it.
  5. Formatting – Use the textbox for formatting your text, don’t rely on formatting copied across from Word. In fact, make sure you don’t by pasting any copied text into the HTML aspect of the textbox, which will not copy and formatting, then using the formatter for all formatting. Nothing annoys me more than seeing changes or inconsistencies in font, font size, indents, bullet or lists, etc. A little bit of attention at the start can improve your course no end.
  6. Contact – Are the right details available for the academic teaching and administrative teams? Have any changed? Can you put any extra content here like the time a student should expect a response (24/48 hours?), weekend or out-of-office replies, etc.?

Improve your course with images, descriptions, videos, assessments, interactions, etc. More here
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  1. Images and graphics – Use images and graphics carefully, make sure you attribute them properly, load them to the course content collection to be sure they’ll copy across in rollover. if possible always talk with your friendly ID or LT, they’ll help either find them images or design new ones for you ;-)
  2. Video – Consider video. Whether you record your own (with or without professional support) or use one of the many that are available online (YouTube, Vimeo, TEDTalks, etc.) but be sure to check the owner and copyright status of the video. If user ‘jonny5alive‘ loaded a BBC news item then odds are it wont be available online for very long. If the video is from the legitimate BBC account, then it’s a good one to use. This is not just about copyright, it’s also about making sure the video is less likely to disappear mid way through your module and you have to scramble around trying to find an alternative. If nothing else, record a short module intro AND a short intro to each week/unit. Not only will this be something you can reuse next year, it’ll also be a way for your geographically scattered students to engage with you and build a relationship. I’ve written more about videos in learning here.
  3. Activities – Whether your module space is for purely online learning & delivery, blended learning or your campus-based students, you can still make use of the Bb course area for activities or, if not the activity itself, explanatory and help guides to help students find and partake in the activity.
  4. Assignment – As with ‘dates’ above, check and re-check all aspects of the assignment submissions, especially how and when it’s available. Check with the academic and admin teams about grades, feedback, etc.

All the above are iterative stages to creating a working, competent, consistent, relevant and engaging course/module space for the students.

Image source: Domiriel (CC BY-NC-2.0)

Learning Technologists as Project Managers too

As I work my way through job boards and role profiles in my effort to avoid my recent redundancy and the impending doom of an empty bank account (yes, really) I have found a lot of roles being advertised with headline grabbing titles and/or impressive requirements. What I’ve also found is there is sometimes a narrowness in thinking, from both employer or agency, in that people can and should be pigeon-holed into a role because of the title. If your title is one thing (LT?) then that means you can’t be considered for a role as an ID. Yes, there are differences, but there are also similarities which can be greatly enhanced by crossing disciplines, and this cross over can benefit both individual and employer with fresh ideas, fresh perspective and fresh enthusiasm.

What I’ve also seen, and this is the reason for this post, is that Learning Technologists* (LT) are also very effective project managers. Here’s why. The quotes are taken from jobs being advertised today for project managers in engineering and finance companies:

“As a project manager it is your responsibility to deliver projects on time and in budget, by planning and organising resources and people.”

Obviously, yes. An LT is required to work with multiple teams from academic, administrative and IT perspectives. Often the estates teams can be involved if it means new kits needs installation, as well as legal and HR if contracts need signing. Not to mention what happens when you need to dig into the data the system collects, where it’s stored and the data protection (and GDPR) issues that follow. Sometimes the LT is at the heart of this making sure the work is done and everyone involved has the necessary information to hand in a timely manner.

The thing is, we LTs often don’t know about the budgets or wider timelines involved, other than start of term or assessment dates. But this doesn’t stop us working to deadlines and strategies that have defined and immovable timelines. Damn, we’re good!

“Select, lead and motivate your project team from both internal and external stakeholder organisations.”

Sometimes the ‘team’ may just be you and the academic colleague who wants to do something they’ve never done before. Sometimes you may be experienced at this task, or it’s new to you too. The stakeholders here may be other staff who need mentoring or training on something new, they could also be students who need guidance on new assessment criteria or group working parameters. Again, it’s up to you to manage, “lead and motivate”.


Unleash your inner project manager
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“Planning and setting goals, defining roles and producing schedules of tasks.”

The timeline could include a new cohort of students, the NSS survey, release of module/unit materials for online learning, scheduled meeting, fixed reports, annual budget review, etc. It doesn’t matter the actual purpose of the goal, role, or schedule of tasks, the LT is at the centre and working with others to ensure nothing slips and everything works.

“Report regularly to management and the client.”

However the report is structured it doesn’t matter if this report is verbal over a coffee, written via email or other social channel used, or a formal document presented to a board or committee, the ‘client’ will have contact from the LT on the status of the work and progress. A good/great LT and project manager will also make sure delays and timeline slippage is reported well in advance and any impacts taken into account.

“… first point of contact for any issue or discrepancy arising from within the project before the problem escalates to higher authorities.”

As above, the LT is this point of contact on any work he/she undertakes. Whether the work is consider small or ‘incidental’ or a full-on VLE review with institutional impact, the LT is fully aware of the impact to themselves and those involved.

Project management is defined as “the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives” (APM) and a project manager is “typically to offer a product, change a process or to solve a problem in order to benefit the organization” (Project Insight).

Working on implementing a new VLE or LMS for your department or institution? Chances are you’ll be working with a dedicated project manager or someone who’s acting in that role. Initiating some training on new tools or design or assessment criteria or rules around lecture capture … chances are you’ll again need to plan ahead for delivery of the training, resources to support it, room bookings or webinar time/space. See … you’ll need to employ project management techniques to make sure it happens when you want it to, how you want it, and where you want it.

Sounds familiar? It sounds like work I’ve engaged in for years now. I just didn’t know I could add ‘project manager’ to my list of skills too!

* Note: When I say Learning Technologists, I also mean Educational / Instructional Designers too.

If you’re interested, I’ve found this series of 15 journals (free download) from Product Focus, really useful introduction to project and product management. You’ll have to read your own skill and projects into the words, but it’s all there if you want it.

Image source: Judith Doyle (CC BY-ND-2.0)

Reading: TEL strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation

This, from ALT Research in Learning Technology:

The publication of institutional strategies for learning, teaching and assessment in UK higher education is practically ubiquitous. Strategies for technology-enhanced learning are also widespread. This article examines 44 publically [sic] available UK university strategies for technology-enhanced learning, aiming to assess the extent to which institutional strategies engage with and accommodate innovation in technology-enhanced learning. … The article argues that sustaining innovation and efficiency innovation are more commonplace in the strategies than disruptive innovation, a position which is misaligned with the technology practices of students and lecturers.

After being called ‘disruptive’ before I was drawn to this paper as I don’t believe the disruption is in the traditional sense of someone sitting at the back of a classroom being a distraction or taking up too much time of others. No, this ‘disruption’ is more about the desire to think about the work, the technology, the learning, the students, etc. in a different way or from a different perspective. Once something is written in a policy or set of guidelines, it becomes the providence that is recommended and thus ‘normal’.

Being disruptive is, for me, just about understanding the policy or guidelines and thinking “Hmm, is this in our best interest? Is this still valid? Can we still innovate and improve our teaching, our students, our work?” This, from Flavin and Quintero‘s conclusion sums it up (emphasis my own) …

The examination of UK HEIs’ technology-enhanced learning strategies indicates a willingness to adapt on the part of universities but a disinclination to disrupt. Universities can describe themselves in their strategies as innovative yet, in practice, they are often ameliorative, more likely to pursue sustaining or efficiency than disruptive innovation.

Flavin, M. and Quintero, V. (2018). UK higher education institutions’ technology-enhanced learning strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation. Research in Learning Technology, [online] 26(0). Available at: https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/1987 [Accessed 2 May 2018].

Image source: Fio (CC BY NC-2.0)

Change the title, change the work?

Have I had it wrong all these years … is not been about me being a Learning Technologist (LT), I’ve actually been an Instructional Designer (ID) instead? Bear with me here …

I’ve been looking at opportunities on job boards (more on this another time) and have been looking at the requirements and roles for Instructional Designers. There are more of these around that LT or senior LT roles. Based on the role profile and job description, it got me thinking; “Well, that’s what I’ve been doing isn’t it?” Here are some of the descriptors and requirements that are asked for on an ID position, and how this mirrors the work I’ve been doing as an LT

“This role will be creating high quality new learning programmes for [name here], being the designer of the blended, engaging and interactive learning programmes to address specific business needs.”

“Creative, direct and concise. Good with technology. Great communicator, especially with clients.”

“Analyse base content and current study materials to identify the best way to present the content online.”

“Consider the range of instructional media available: video (face to face, voice-over PowerPoint), interactions and questions to recommend the most suitable for each instructional need.”

All the above have come from current ID roles being advertised. All this is precisely what most LTs I know are doing, and what I’ve done many times before too, yet you can be compartmentalised into a role by title, not by merit?

Let’s contrast this with similar descriptors from LT roles currently being advertised …

“Design and Development of e-learning content.”

“Undertake a range of activities to advocate for digital learning and its associated technologies.”

“The LT is expected to work proactively to identify potential resources for the [name here] and to plan and manage the development of varied e-learning material, including video, webinars, self-paced interactive resources, and [VLE here] activities.”

“Provide leadership and support for the development of innovative and effective teaching and learning practices using information technology.”


Learning Technologist or Instructional Designer ... or both? #edtech
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Do you see the similarities here? The only difference is that the ID role requirements are for commercial/corporate employers, and the LT ones for universities. Same role, often similar responsibilities and management duties (team and self), but different ‘sectors’. Of course, there are many differences in the roles that mean there are clear distinctions that warrant the different titles, and that’s fine – LTs may be more limited in scope in what and how they deal with, LTs may look after a tool (VLE, lecture capture, etc.) rather than a department or programme or academic group, etc..

But, for myself and those LTs I know and have worked with, we are much much more than this. We engage, advise, collaborate, curate, anticipate, lead, mentor, showcase, develop, design, implement, consult, etc. All these things are appropriate terms for both LT and ID roles. Yes? Perhaps it’s more to do with context … in my more recent roles and work I am so much more than an LT … I am now manager of an entire organisation’s learning platform, how it works, why it works and who it works for (internal and external). I ‘manage’ all aspects of the relationships between organisational parties with interest in the training as well as all external stakeholders, whether they are course participants or suppliers or accrediting bodies or potential clients.

According to the definitions in the ID role profiles above I have a more ID background and approach than LT, and have been since my 1st day in an LT-titled role, since I learned about my craft and stopped blindly following convention of the (enforced) VLE module structure and thought about making the learning more engaging and inclusive. It’s not about using the tools provided, it’s not even about finding new tools, it’s about using appropriate tools at an appropriate time for an appropriate motive to further the learning opportunities.


ID or LT? It's about using appropriate tools at an appropriate time for an appropriate motive to further the learning opportunities #edtech
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So, are you an Instructional Designer or a Learning Technologist. Does the title/name given to your role even matter? Perhaps the difference here is time … what was once two distinct roles have now merged in outlook and intention and can be seen as the same, depending on which title the organisation prefers?

Image source: Olle & Agen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Get to know a ‘digital champion’

Earlier this week I read and shared a post on the Inside Higher Ed website: Online Learning Shouldn’t Be ‘Less Than’ and tweeted this:

The post was about the perception, for some, that online teaching was easier and somehow lesser, therefore easier, option than classroom-based teaching. Online is different, yes. Online requires a different set of skills to make it as engaging for the students, yes. Online can be more rewarding for both teacher and student, yes, for some. Online should replace classroom teaching, no.

Later I saw the same post was also shared by someone in my LinkedIn network with the associated text:

Teachers – buy your digital champions a coffee and see how they can help you with online/blended delivery. I bet their eyes will widen with excitement! (I know mine would)

This isn’t wrong, so I’m not criticising anyone here, but I disagree in that we should not limit ourselves to those already known to us as ‘digital champions’. The sentiment is spot on, I would rather have a far wider reaching approach, taking all contacts in to account, especially looking beyond My reply was:

Better still, take some time and talk to someone you don’t know very well and find out something new about them. You may just find that they are also a ‘digital champion’ in an area you didn’t even know about. Your network will surprise you, in a good way!

Let’s face it, everyone is unknown until we find out about them. Think back to all those who are currently in your network, either in your office, department, institution, Twitter, etc. I bet you didn’t know anything about them or how important they would be to your own development until you talked to them? Yes, we have to remember to keep our networks carefully maintained and continue to grow them, you never know when you find your next EdTech leader to follow and work with! You never know when they will find you and think the same about you!

PS. I prefer tea, don’t drink coffee, and a cake is a deal-breaker for me. You know, just in case we meet and you want a chat! [smile]

Image source: Danielle Chang (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Relationships

Development of materials for online, distance, blended and campus-based courses can be a pleasurable experience. It can also be fraught with issues not least constraints in time, budgets, resources, personalities, egos, etc. How can we manage this? It’s quite easy really … keep the conversation and communications flowing.

The worst thing that can happen during the time set aside to design, develop and implement the materials is that there is a breakdown in the process or communications. Breakdowns will and do happen, it’s how you manage it that can determine how quickly you can get back on track. If the goal or deadline that you’re working to is a sensible and achievable one then I always see that as the starting point to work back from. You have three months? Excellent, drop a week or two off that for final checks and testing. You’ll need it.

From there work out any leave or national holidays between now and then. This might throw up further family leave or conference activity that will mean part of your team will be unavailable. Work out roles and responsibilities, assign these according to expertise or availability. Let everyone know who is doing what, when and why. I don’t like them but a Gantt chart will really help you here. Keep it updated, no matter how hard or late. Keep it stored centrally, with all your other files and resources, and let everyone know where it is and why it’s there. Refer to it regularly. Point everyone to it regularly and check you’re on schedule for each milestone. It’s better to find out early you’ll miss a milestone, you can work with that, than to find out the day after it was due. If that happens then there is something more serious happening here (see below), your team should be able and willing to give bad news as well as receive it. Milestones move, but identifying them early helps mitigate any serious delays.


Work out a communication structure early, stick to it, hold others to it, don't let it drop...
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Work out a communication structure early, stick to it, hold others to it, don’t let it drop, encourage delays to be caught up, don’t sacrifice the end goal – once you do that it’ll become acceptable for those deadlines to be ‘flexible’ and sometimes ignored.

The elephant in the room, if there is one, is that the academic or team you’re working with is not particularly interested or engaged in the project or course. Sometimes this is because they’re just very busy and this isn’t a priority for them. It could also be that they’ve had this work dropped in their lap and are effectively forced to engage (or not). Whatever the reason, keeping on side with them is key to the relationship. 

We’ve all struggled at some point or another with team members dragging the heals as part of the process. As I said earlier, there are many personal or work related reasons. For me it’s always been key to remain helpful, informative, supportive and focussed. If you’re on message and on time or budget, others will take your lead and follow suit. Mostly. For those who don’t, if you’re in communication with them then the relationship you have can help bring it back on track. Yes, their office may be gathering dust and they’re never on campus, but you do have a phone and their number. Call them. If they are on campus but just busy (or avoiding you?) then I often seem to find people in the queue for a coffee between lectures [smile]. Don’t get all heavy, just a short ‘hi’ and chat to ask about progress or how they are is sometimes enough to find out that, yes, they are sorry for the delay and, yes, they’re nearly finished. There, no great panic. Back on track again.

Sometimes we spend time and effort building a relationship we often forget that it needs maintenance and regular tweaking to keep it fresh and working. Circumstances can change, as do projects or timescales. Build the relationship and work on it and you will find those you work with will also share your passion for the work and that three month deadline is easy, after all!

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sharing

Recent themes to my work has been the nature of how, and what, we share. I wanted to reflect a little on my own ‘sharing’ here, and try and split the sharing from social media, if possible. 

There are obvious easy ways to write about my sharing (per platform) but also I want to think about the why? So, why? I can’t deny one major factor is to reach a wider audience than just those I immediately work with on a day-to-day basis. By sharing my ideas or thoughts or projects or interests I’m obviously creating and managing my brand (me) but I also hope to be of some influence to others working in the same sphere as me.

Blogging

Obviously, there’s this blog. Back when I started writing here I used to write about the day-to-day tasks and tools I used. The last few years has seen me change direction, mainly due to possible conflict of interest with where I’ve worked and the need to keep some commercially sensitive things private. I’ve developed it more recently to be about the why I do things and how I develop myself or my work, my attitude to learning and technology and how use them both. I write here to share experiences and ideas, books I’ve read and reviewed, books I’ve written and curated, etc. I write to have a brain-dump, drop ideas or stress, I write to see what you all think … What do you think?

Twitter

I share my blog posts on Twitter so I can reach more people, and engage the wider field of learning technology. It reaches more people this way and I can engage in conversations beyond my own understanding, therefore helping me widen my appreciation and knowledge for my work. My Twitter activity involved my blog but also other aspects of my work, and sometimes home life too, but mainly my work. I save tweets to my ‘like’ (although I still don’t use it as “ooh, I like this tweet” but rather as a save feature to go back and read or reply to something after the fact) and add people to my lists. Twitter is my go-to place all day and pretty much everyday. My network or followers and those I follow grows and changes all the time, therefore my exposure to new ideas or tools does too.

LinkedIn

I’ve been and gone on LinkedIn before and, at the moment, am back and engaging here again. The audience is different to Twitter, less chat and more ‘sharing’. Perhaps it’s because it’s viewed as more of my online CV, or perhaps because there’s different mechanisms for comments, etc. I don’t know, but LinkedIn is an acquired taste. Currently I like it, but I take it each day at a time with all my sharing. 

Pinterest/Flipboard

I use both these platforms more for searching and reading different themes, less so for my own sharing, but I appreciate the work others are putting into their sharing activities here. For some these are important channels for sharing their work or ideas, and that’s fine.

This is, after all, about what works for you or me. There is no rule that will work for everyone, we are each individual and have different perspectives and needs and likes, and this is what we each bring to the wider community. THIS is what makes our personal (learning) networks so vibrant and interesting. This is why I love to share .. I take so much from the community on all these platforms, I want to add something back in the hope (need?) that it makes a difference to someone like something I’ve just taken. Isn’t sharing great!


Sharing: why and how. It may be a tweet, a blog post, an idea, a photo. This is sharing. For me.
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Facebook

I suppose I ought to add this here too although I’m still thinking of dumping my account here. Facebook has only ever been about family and friends. I dabbled in having a work-type account but realised the audience was the same, but smaller, than my twitter audience so decided it wasn’t worth the extra time to manage and curate it. 

Above all I try and keep my sharing professional. I have interests that creep into my sharing every now and then, mainly on Twitter. Yes, I have two kittens, I drink tea not coffee, I love Lego. But it’s still shared with a view to what my audience may be interested in. I don’t follow celebrities, for the most part, as I’m just not that interested in what they’re doing. Unless they are the kind of people I think are celebrities like Steve Wheeler, Stephen Heppell, Sue Beckingham, Amy Burvall, Maren Deepwell, et al (see the people I’ve been lucky to work with on my books, these are the celebrities in my world!). Then, of course, I’m a groupie and will follow them anywhere I can.

What about you? What is your strategy (if you have one) for sharing?

Image source: iSchumi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Distraction

My last post was all about the ways in which familiarity can bring a sense of consistency to not only delivering online learning content, but also designing and developing it. This time I want to look at the way in which distraction can prevent the well designed and impeccably delivered learning materials. 

Whether you work in an office or, like me at the moment, at home, we all look to manage our working environment. Working in an office, small or large, will often mean managing how people interact with you when you’re trying to concentrate, preventing the creep of office chatter or ‘work’ noise. 

Personally, if I want to focus I use music and, when in an environment with others, headphones. Depending on the quality of your headphones you may find you provide more distraction for  co-workers as your headphones leak sound. A while ago I bought a set of AKG Y50BT headphones … not noise-cancelling, I can’t afford a decent set of those, but these on-ear ‘phones are really good at reducing noise ingress. The only downside of these is that my ears get hot.

Working from home means I don’t have to wear the ‘phones unless I have to. I can have music playing in my study or, if I work in the kitchen or conservatory, from the laptop or Amazon Echo (yes, I got one). Obviously working from home is great, but that’s once the kids have gone to school. Come mid-late afternoon, they’re back. I don’t want to impact my home life so back I go to the ‘study’ (smallest bedroom, until I get the garden office built!), close the door and try and let the house carry on as normal.

You can’t really do that in a shared office either, can you? Some people I’ve spoken with while writing this have a dedicated ‘quiet’ room where one or more can go to work in ‘silence’, or rather without interruption. Now that’s a good idea!

Making sure those around us know when we’re available to chat or when we want to focus and not be disturbed. I’ve worked with people who’ve had different techniques for this; one had a sign they’d hang on the back of their chair when they’re not to be disturbed. One manager used to wear a hat when he wanted to focus and be left alone. Another used to put his headphones on.


How do you work or learn in a distracted environment?
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All this is great for me and how I set my working environment up, but what about for those of us who are also learners? What about for learners who are not as experienced or comfortable in sitting down at a computer or computing device to ‘learn’? What does distraction mean to them?

Firstly we, the learning design/development community, have to recognise that no matter how hard we try we will never be the most important thing in the learner’s life – family, friends, work, fitness, health, etc. will always exert a pull on their time and commitment. We have to respect that and enable the learning to fit around their existing lives. Even those learners who are fully committed to the course(s) and spend as long as possible, or even longer than we recommend,  need to be able to learn when it suits them. Learners will often be doing it after a full day of work, family, etc. No everyone is at their mental best at this time either, so we need to make the learning as ‘easy’ to access as possible (see my post ‘familiarity‘ for more on this).

I’ve often seen, in online courses, a timer at the beginning of a section – “Time to complete: 0.5hrs”. There are often timescales ‘imposed’ on the course itself, most MOOCs will say something like “5 hrs per week“. This has often raised questions about whether we ought to be this prescriptive about how long the ‘learning’ should take, after all people read or learn at different rates.

When you create your online course, do you help the learner by explaining how they can set up their time and environment to prevent distraction? Would the (novice) learner benefit from our experience if we told them “find somewhere quiet, turn the TV off, close down social media tabs, don’t look at your phone notifications, switch the phone to silent, etc.”. But what about those people who focus more when there is noise (not distraction, but noise .. music, family, TV, cafe, etc.). I know it works for me. Sometimes.

Distraction doesn’t mean isolation or quiet. Something distracting to me might be essential for you to focus and relax. The thing here, for me, is that we have had the luxury to find out these things for ourselves. For our learners, what can we do to help them find their ideal ‘learning environment’? If your course has an on-boarding process or initiation stage then use it to highlight what is expected of them, how much time (and how often) they ought to spend on the course and it’s readings.

Provide as much information for the learners, without overloading them, to make the decisions for themselves. And try it out.

Image source: cosmo_71 (CC BY ND-2.0)

All change

In April, 2007, I joined Bournemouth University as Learning Technologist. This was the start of my journey in learning technology and working in an academic environment. Not really knowing or understanding what the role was I jumped in at the deep end and started learning all about pedagogy, learning technology, VLEs, assessments, assessment and marking criteria, copyright, academic personalities, missed meetings, impossible deadlines, broken links, unnecessary emails, internal politics, etc. and how to work with both highly passionate and distracted academics. Every day was different, no two projects or modules or meetings were the same. This is the kind of creative environment I found, and still find, comforting, challenging and worth getting out of bed for!

A little over five years later, May 2012, I moved the family to the Midlands and joined the University of Leicester. Working closely with academics from different departments the challenges were the same, the technology (for the most part) the same, and the support and camaraderie equally as inspiring and engaging.  

After two years with friends and colleagues at Leicester, May 2014, I made another move, this time to Warwick Business School. Joining a larger team as a Teaching and Learning Consultant (equivalent role and responsibilities to a senior Learning Technologist at Bournemouth and Leicester) I found my place within an established team dynamic, learning the processes and environments, using my experience and knowledge to enhance and further the ongoing projects. At Warwick I have been heavily involved in the FutureLearn MOOCs, as I wrote about in my 3-year CMALT review, as well as working with colleagues on the leading distance learning MBA program. With less hands-on involvement in the actual setting up and managing modules, and more instructional design, managerial and strategic responsibilities (for both the MOOCs and academic liaison) the role moved me and my interpretation of learning technology to a new level.

So, now we’re up to date (including a renewed and reworked CMALT portfolio). Now its the start of a new chapter for me and my family, moving onwards and upwards. Again.

Not that it was necessarily a conscious decision to go looking for a change but, from the beginning of November, 2017, I will no longer be working at Warwick, nor HE. I join a new startup venture as their manager for ‘product and proposition’ which, for me, means I’ll be managing and running their online platform and portfolio of accredited courses. Called the EasyCare Academy, it’s focus is to “improve older people’s lives with a person-centred approach that supports healthy ageing” through a person centred approach. The individual, their needs, their environment, their health, their wellbeing. Aimed, at the moment, at nurses, care workers, clinicians, etc. the courses will cover aspects of a whole of life approach for an ageing population, not just their medical needs. All delivered online.

Distance learning never looked so promising, interesting, engaging and worthwhile!


Learning technologists need to expand and explore, and @hopkinsdavid is not one to stay still (for too long) #CMALT
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The challenge, for me, is bringing my experience from +10 years in UK HEIs and +25 years with the internet and online communities, into the commercial world but not losing the core experiences of learning, online resources, design, pedagogy, management, leadership, network, etc. And enthusiasm. With a timetable for the first courses already set, and discussions around accreditation partners taking place, the schedule will only get busier as we work with more associations and partners, add more courses to the development cycle and explore a new platform and it’s capabilities. A platform has been chosen for it’s resilience, accessibility, scalability, and proven success at delivering online learning to a (large) global audience (more on this another time), which will be a great move for me on the back of my work on MOOCs (reflections like this and this and this).

So. This is an exciting and very scary move for me and my family, but one we’re confident is a good move. The EasyCare family are very welcoming, generous, passionate, dedicated and focused on the goals: to ‘change the future of healthy ageing’.

Image source: Forsaken Fotos (CC BY 2.0)