How Technology Brings Inquiry To The Forefront Of Learning— Especially In A Crisis

Schools have been closing, one after another; for most of us, this is a very strange reality. There is no doubt that many members of the educational community thought that this would put our work on hold until the crisis is over—and for some, it will. But, this is the 21st-century. All the theory about innovative methods in education is now called to action, at least for those of us who have the privilege to implement distance learning programs.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

Will Immersive Technologies Make A Real Impact On eLearning?

A lot of industries, including gaming and healthcare, are already utilizing immersive technologies to transform their business. While some of them are utilizing these cutting edge technologies for training purposes, some are using them for data visualization.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

The State of #EdTech, 2020

At the end of 2019, a call was put out by the folks over at EdTechDigest for comments and insight into what industry and education leaders thought the state of educational technology would be in 2020.

Featuring the ‘Top 100 Influencers in EdTech’, ’10 Companies to Watch’, and ‘Leading Voices of Edtech’ weighing in on the state of education, tech’s role, and what’s ahead—this is a must-read for anyone passionate about the future of learning

Well, the report was published earlier this week and yours truly was featured among the ‘leading voices’ section. Here’s my contribution:

“The state of education is depressingly bleak. So many engaged and passionate teachers (and students) are over-worked, over- observed, under-paid, under- supported, under-valued by the very establishment that should be there to support and encourage them. If it wasn’t for their passion and dedication, education (and our children’s future) would be in a far worse state than it is in!”

David Hopkins // Senior Learning Designer, Coventry University
  • Download the free copy here – EdTechDigest ‘State of EdTech 2020’. Don’t be put off by the ‘add to cart’ message, it is free and there is nothing to do other than provide your email address and name!

What is normal?

I saw something on Twitter that made me think back to a billboard ad I saw back when I worked in Southampton, around 2001.

What made me think of it? Well, how about I tell you about the advert first. It showed, on something like a 50ft wide / 20ft tall billboard at the side of the road I cycled past everyday, a woman’s face, close up. She was attractive, wearing make-up (but not heavy) and her hair tied back, out of her face. The advert had a solid single-colour background, which didn’t detract attention from her face. On one side of her was the question “Is this face normal?”. You were meant, I think, to look at her face and think about her facial features (nose, eyes, laughter-lines, make-up, etc). Was she ‘normal’, based on your own preconceived notion of ‘normal’ (and attractive, no doubt). Most people would probably say yes, she was.

On the other side of the advert, however, were statistics about what people thought would be considered skin ‘abnormalities’, like freckles, pimples, beauty-spots, laugher-lines, visible facial birth marks, scars, etc. Statistics like “50% of women have freckles” or “20% of women have visible facial birth-marks’ or “25% of women under the age of 30 have laughter-lines”. That kind of thing – nothing out of the ordinary, nothing scary or abnormal in the slightest. But it challenged your preconceived notion of what is accepted as ‘normal’.

This advert had such resonance with me as it made me question ‘what is normal?’ It made me question my own preconceptions of normal, of accepted ‘beauty’, but also about not taking someone else’s instruction on what normal should be. You looked at the advert and thought, probably, that this face was normal, when to be without any kind of facial ‘feature’ like freckles or pimples or beauty-marks or anything meant you were (according to the sum of the statistics) among the 0.5% of the population with ‘perfect’ skin. Therefore, nowhere normal, in any meaning of the word (“Conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern”). Therefore, what you think is ‘normal’ is the total opposite. What is normal is actually abnormal, outside the norm.

This is why I don’t like it when I hear about a student profile, or any kind of ‘normal’, attributed to those we work with or work for. There isn’t a ‘normal’ profile for a student on your course. Even if you have a highly specialised course with a small group of students coming from a small specialised industry and background, I’m betting their individual experiences and backgrounds that brought them to you. They will still be varied and interesting, reading at different speeds, taking notes (or not), questioning you or accepting without question. Not one will have the same ability to be critical, or to research at the same speed, or to write. They are not the ‘normal’ you’ve prepared for.

Let’s not design for an accepted ‘normal’. Let’s embrace a new ‘normal’ which is as varied as the number of people out there. The new ‘normal’ is everyone. It’s a challenge and not one we can do in isolation, rather in collaboration with our audience.

unsplash-logoKyle Glenn


So 2012 was the Year of the MOOC, and now 2020 is being touted as the Year of the SPOC?

But, stop me if you’ve heard this before … isn’t a SPOC (Small Private Online Course) what universities, colleges, training centres, etc. been doing for years? The only difference is it’s got a fancy new name. Right?

  • Small – by definition the cohort of (paying?) students will be smaller than a MOOC, but some would argue even MOOCs weren’t that big either.
  • Private – private, as in not accessible to those not on the invitation list, or not permitted to access.
  • Online – yes, it’s online, and it’s not new.
  • Course – yes, it’s a course in it’ sown right. It might even be part of some larger ‘course’ for CPD or qualification. This ‘course’ may be known in your organisation as a module or unit or other such currency of ‘learning for credit’.

According to the AdvanceHE “SPOCs are small (tens or hundreds of learners) restricted-access courses”, but I’ve seen MOOCs with those numbers, and no one suggested renaming them to a SOOC.

So, does that mean online learning has matured, just not how we name it? Can the course be online and call it an ‘online course’? By enforcing a title like MOOC or SPOC we’re limiting it’s reach or impact. My next thought in this wandering narrative is whether the same course can work in an open and private setting?

Photo by Rozan Naufal on Unsplash

Thinking inside the box

So far this year I’ve heard a couple of instances where I’ve been told to ‘think outside the box’ and I thought … “but what if there’s nothing wrong with the box?”

For me, when someone says’ think outside the box’ it’s all about taking a different approach or different view of the same issue and being creative in thinking about what needs attention and what needs ‘solving’. This puts the emphasis on the ‘thinking’ part of the statement.

Thought – Perhaps I’m always thinking outside the box if I don’t see the value of thinking outside of the outside of the box?

But for some, the emphasis is on the ‘box’. If you think of the box holding the institutionally recognised and supported tools, does the box have the tools you want? For this post I’m going to take this route, thinking about the box (the VLE, the CMS, the LMS, the approved list of tools your institution supports, etc.). Sometimes we don’t need a new box or tool, but perhaps a new way of using or viewing it?

From my time supporting and training academic colleagues on platforms like Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, OpenEdX, etc. I heard the same stories about “it can’t do what I want” or variations of this. Often, the VLE or platform is not at ‘fault’, the platform can perform the required task but it may look different or work slightly differently. But it can still be done, but it requires a creative approach to do it (if in doubt, please talk to your friendly learning technologist!).

I have seen so many creative and effective uses of the basic/standard VLE tools that I sometimes wonder if the search for a new tool is just because we want to be seen to innovate or to use the latest, shiny technology? I’m sure there has been an element of this in the past, and I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of it too (see Open Badges, Google Glasses, etc.) but these days I also see more critical views on the adoption and implementation of new tools. We, as a body or industry of learning professionals, are thinking deeper and more clearly about using new systems and tool, so we’re sure the changes or new tool actually adds value, that the students benefit from it as part of their wider learning journey and not just to add variety.

Let’s not forget, most institutions have a whole scope of supported and approved tools and systems to use – a short search of your own IT webpages should find this list. There is usually a great wealth of available tools there. If what you want isn’t there, have you considered that it may be excluded or omitted for a reason? The best thing is to ask IT about it, ask around your own learning technology community – you never know what experience and knowledge is available once you ask.

For me we, learning designers and learning technologists need to carefully and critically consider the tools we already have at our disposal. Sometimes they will be enough and can do what we need of them. Sometimes they can’t. Then, once we’re sure we need to look elsewhere, we can and should. We have to again carefully consider the tool and all aspects of it (not least is how and where the student data is handled and stored. Remember, it’s all about GDPR baby!). Will it actually offer any value to the student? Is it sustainable or scalable? How much monitoring or maintenance does it need?

Back to the box then. We do, of course, have the option of ignoring all mention of and all focus on any box. How radical and creative would that be?

In a very apt moment from The Matrix … “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon.” Don’t try and think outside the box (or inside). Realise the truth, there is no box!

YouTube: The Matrix – There is no spoon

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

2020: Trends in education …

Is it just me, or have there been so many more articles and posts about trends in the new year/decade recently? I’m certain I’ve not seen this many before, either for a new year or a new decade – examples here and here and here and here and here and here and here, are but a few.

You’ll be plerased to know I’m not going to write about any trend(s) here (although I do have ideas), other than to say that I believe a (re)focus on the human element in learning design, instead of the technology, is going to be vital to navigate the new HE sector. Consider the impact Brexit and other socio-political factors will affect the industry and you’ll see the need for institutions to lookl hard at the bottom line and focus on what they’re good at, which is hopefully teaching and quality courses.

Whilst there has been a great deal of focus on effective and inclusive learning design and learning experiences for a number of years now, I believe we are entering new and highly competitive era for higher education providers, and the continued success of these institutions will come down to the feedback, satisfaction and ‘trusted’ status each provider has, as submitted by the student.

I’ve just been reminded in this post, from 2012, that supports my ‘claim, not trend’ (as someone put it), about a focus on learning design – ‘the voice of an active learner’

There, prediction (but not a trend, oh no) over!

Photo by Stephan Henning on Unsplash

Contract for the Web

“A global plan of action to make our online world safe and empowering for everyone”
Contract for the Web

Last week I wrote a couple of blog posts that, well, just didn’t sit right with me (and had no real point either, other than a weak rant). So I deleted them. Through my mumbling and rambling mind I was writing about the true state of the internet as I see it, the rise and continued rise of trust, fake news, politicians and political viewpoints, climate, the dreaded #Brexit, and much, much more. I did have a point, that related to work, learning, students, etc but it was lost in the noise of the rant.

Which brings us, in a timely manner, to today and Tim Berners-Lee’s launch of the Contract for the Web.

Why have I signed it? Simple … I believe the internet can engage and improve our understanding of our environment, our physical, emotional, cultural and financial environments, and that together we can use it to improve the lives of others who are less able than ourselves. This is clearly not everyones intention. Whatever you think of the big tech companies and their use of data, your data, there is a disconnect between that is ‘right’, what is ‘right for me’, what is ‘right for them’ and what is ‘right for everyone’.

Whilst it may be legal for these big companies to move their business around the world and pay no tax, doens’t make it ‘right’ or ethical, especially if they are also accused of questionable standards their employees have to work under. Knowledge and power (and money) enables this. But it isn’t ‘right’.

“Everyone has a role to play in safeguarding the future of the Web. The Contract for the Web was created by representatives from over 80 organizations, representing governments, companies and civil society, and sets out commitments to guide digital policy agendas. To achieve the Contract’s goals, governments, companies, civil society and individuals must commit to sustained policy development, advocacy, and implementation of the Contract text.”
Tim Berners-Lee

The Contract for the Web aims to level the playing field, that everyone has a basic right to information, and that information should be consensual, truthful, respectful and free from racial or sexual bias. The contract brings experts and citizens together, with their “diverse range of experiences and perspectives — to build a global plan of action to make our online world safe and empowering for everyone.”

Ironically, large tech firms that have previously been accused of being the very organisations that have enabled the web to corrupt nad monetise our very existence (Goolge, Facebook, Twitter, etc) are also, for the moment, on the list of signatories.

I think the Matrix has me

A fairly innocuous tweet this morning had me thinking a little deeper and longer than I originally intended:

What I meant when I tweeted was that I felt I was missing out on something, but not sure what, as per ‘the Matrix has you’ line. What I ended up thinking about was the ‘glictch’ in the Matrix – the glitch in the film is an event that draws the individual to the realisation they are in a simulation. The glitch is passed off as a feeling of deja-vu, when you think you’ve seen or heard something or someone before, but you know you haven’t.

For me, the glitch today was just about repeating the same conversation I know I’ve had before, months or even years ago. When working online and starting new projects (large or small), there are some features of the kick-off meeting(s) that need to happen and be covered (timeframe, narrative, resourcing/resources, tools, etc). Saying the same thing time and time again can often feel repetitive or annoying, but it is also key to working well with colleagues (not all of them will have heard this before, some may have forgotten, some may even not think it important).

What is important is that repeating myself, in saying what needs to be said again and again, will eventually get the message across; it will eventually be more deeply understood and will ensure the project team(s) are considering the points carefully and appropriately. Being a stuck record for the sake of making a point is not helpful or welcome, but repeating yourself and offering a solution, and showing interest and care has benefits that everyone can reap. Being interested and caring, to the point of annoying others so they too care can and should be welcome.

It does of course all rest on how the glitch, the message is made. Make a fool or annoyance of yourself and the message is lost in the “oh, he’s on a rant again” background noise.

Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

Leading from the back

As I was reading this HBR article about the ‘modern’ interpretation of being a leader – ‘The leader as coach‘ – when I saw that Graham Brown-Martin had also just shared it, using this quote as the focus for his share:

“Twenty-first-century managers simply don’t (and can’t!) have all the right answers. To cope with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment.”

This resonates greatly with me at the moment – I hadn’t really thought that my management ‘style’ had any meaning or theory behind it other than I manage/treat others like I like to be managed – I line manage Learning Designers and particiapte in many organisational and team managment, leadership, strategic and organisational meetings. What I end up doing most of the day is using my breadth of knowledge of learning ‘technology’, student engagement, institutional structure, learning-about-learning, etc. and apply it to a variety of circumstances which affect not only learning design but also other aspects of course creation and delivery.

Leading from the front is often counter-productive here. Leading from the back and letting the details speak for themselves. I still have a great deal of knowedge and detailed background in the current platform we develop and deliver on (FutureLearn), so I have a lot to offer there, but it’s also more appropriate for me to take a step back and let the learning designers own and grow in that space, and for me to take the ‘lead’ in making with they have the skills, and opportunity to develop the skills, to drive our development and understanding.

“There may be times when all team members are productively getting on with their work, and the right approach to managing them is to leave them alone.”

To this end, I choose to ‘lead from the back’, as I call it. I have no intention to ‘command and control’, as the article suggests leadership has been previously, but I do want to enable and empower my co-workers and colleagues to be the best they can. As the above quote also suggests, if it works and everyone is getting on with ‘it’, then leave it alone and just be ready to support and coach when asked.

PS. I am in no way considering myself a ‘coach’ or ‘coaching’ my team, but perhaps I should explore this avenue as part of my PD far more than I have to date?

As I said in a previous post (‘Instructions’), “let me be me and you will always get the best of me.” The same is true of those I manage. I let them be them in the hope that will also get the best of them.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash