Free eBook: Selecting The Right Learning Technology For Your Needs

You want your learning materials and resources interactive, easily accessible, and short, like learners want them, but that brings an investment that's not to be taken lightly. Reading this eBook will help you ask yourself the questions that will make you decide if you truly need the investment, and the new technologies available to do it.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

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)

The ‘killer’ interview question?

In your last interview, were you asked a question you thought was either too tough, too personal, too ambiguous, etc.? Did you think you ‘nailed it’ or did you come away confused about the purpose of the question, your response, or whether the interviewer was messing with you?

From the article:

“…candidates often struggled with the question: “Tell me about your most significant technical accomplishment, the project that you’re most proud of.” Max Brown, ex-Tesla recruiter.

This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I can think of a few examples here, but is it the kind of thing the interviewer is looking for. Brown says that “most people’s first instinct is to pick the project or achievement that sounds the most substantial on paper – but that’s not always the one that illustrates their actual technical ability” and that “it’s usually better to shine the spotlight on a smaller project where you can truly speak to all of the technical aspects. In many cases, the biggest, most impressive-sounding initiative you participated in was largely the result of a team effort.” Hmm, really. Well, here’s what I would say, and these were my first thoughts when reading the article last night …


How would you answer an interview question about your 'most significant technical accomplishment'?
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My most ‘significant technical accomplishment’ would probably be one of my first positive experiences using computers. Back in the early- to mid-80’s my Dad bought me a ZX81, and then a ZX Spectrum. Before we bought a cassette player to record and load games I had to type each and every game I wanted to play. Copied from magazines or books, this could take a couple of hours, required squinting intensely at code which, as I’m sure you’re aware, would be rendered useless if you got just one comma or semi-colon in the wrong place. I learned the hard way to pay attention, keep the finer detail in mind when trying to rush to finish before bedtime, etc. I also learned to fix the broken published code. I learned what form the code should take, how to reference other bits of code. I learned how to trust myself and my ‘intuition’ when the code was wrong, so I could fix it before continuing.

From this I learned to write my own games, albeit very basic, but it was still all mine, from concept to (working) completion. I remember a worm race … six or eight worms race from one side of the screen to the other with random generator controlling how fast each went. Whichever got to the other side of the screen won, and I got the whole family to watch and choose a worm! Quality family time, eh? It’s from here that much of everything I do now stems … my interest in computers and computing, developments in AI and VR, gaming (although less and less now, but I’m getting back to it through my kids), the Internet, self motivation and confidence, advances in wearable computing, etc.

If in doubt, here’s another perspective for your next interivew .. “never stop learning”.

What would you choose as your ‘significant [technical] accomplishment’?

Image source: Barney Livingston (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals

I’m always interested in widening my reading list and understanding of the role/world I work in. I’ve worked on the Warwick MOOC ‘The Mind is Flat’ for nearly four years now, and the concept of how we ‘encourage’ change (either personal, professional or organisational) through individual perspectives and acrtions is something I’ve explored a bit. From the Behavioural Science team and Nick Chater at WBS to individual discussions with the individual course teams, the concept and theory behind ‘nudge’ is something I think we can learn a lot from for learning, students, assessments, library, student affairs, etc.

‘Nudge theory’ is defined as the behavioural science (in/from politics, economics, individual or group actions) that “proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance to influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals” (Wikipedia). From subtle changes to the way we think about a problem or how we interact with colleagues to how we approach a problem or it’s solution, being aware of what a nudge is and how it can be of benefit is useful.

What is this book then? Called ‘Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals’ (Amazon) written by Owain Service and Rory Gallagher, two of the behavioural science team in the first Nudge Unit. Taking their experiences, understanding, research and results they’ve put this framework together that we can (note: can, not should or have to) use for personal or professional improvement. The framework is not a this-then-that approach but rather a set of ideas and

“We’re often told to dream big, the sky’s the limit and that nothing is impossible. While it is undoubtedly good advice to set yourself goals that have the potential to make you and those around you healthier and happier, how to reach those goals is often less clear. From getting fit or securing a new job to becoming a better manager or parent, simply setting your mind to something will rarely get you where you want to be, and big plans can quickly become overwhelming, leaving us feeling as though we’ve failed.”

How about these examples … using the theory of behavioural science and nudge to encourage individuals to choose to change their behaviour, rather than tell them they must change it. Examples below include how to make a dangerous pedestrian crossing work when cyclists are introduced, and how to encourage people to  use the stairs rather than the escalator:

YouTube: Nudge – Increasing Traffic Safety with Duct Tape

YouTube: Piano stairs

YouTube: Rory Sutherland on Nudging in the Bathroom

Here’s another great example of how nudges are being used when buying new kitchen appliances:

YouTube: GreeNudge #1: Triple win tumblers

I would really like to explore how we can use these ‘nudges’ in/for learning …

  • Can students be encouraged through nudge to participate more online (MOOCs)?
  • Will students realise the nudge, positively or negatively?
  • Can nudges work in electronic communications (library notices, course announcements, tests, assignment deadlines, assignment feedback, module evaluation etc.)?
  • What can we do with signage (online and campus) to increase footfall? Can we use nudge to help students enter/exit lecture theatres without the standard expected blockages?
  • Can nudges be used to increase numbers in MOOCs?

So many areas of education and learning technology where nudges could work either individually, for a cohort, etc. If you’ve done anything like this please tweet or comment below, I’d really like to know (and broadcast, so we can all learn from your experience).

Here are some more examples of nudge and how it has benefited individuals or organisations:

“It [HMRC] found that replacing the sentence “Nine out of 10 people in the UK pay their tax on time” with “The great majority of people in [the taxpayer’s local area] pay their tax on time” increased the proportion of people who paid their income tax before the deadline.”
The Telegraph

“Fewer solutions capitalize on the availability of student data and student-facing technology to create and automate delivery of nudges. A smart solution using Nudge Theory can impact all students, not just those identified as at-risk, and do so without increasing staff or administrative burden.”
Elearning Industry

“The white line does not tell you must drive on one side of the road, but suggests it is a good idea. It is only on foggy days or on very dirty roads that we realise how vital they are.” 
Teacher Toolkit

“People don’t always act in their own interests – by filing their taxes late, for instance, overeating, or not paying fines until the bailiffs call. As a result, they don’t just harm themselves, they cost the state a lot of money. By looking closely at how they make their choices and then testing small changes in the way the choices are presented, the unit tries to nudge people into leading better lives, and save the rest of us a fortune.”
The Gaurdian


As I work my way through the Kindle edition I’ll tweet passages I find interesting or useful, using the #nudge and #edtech hashtags.

“If any structure is to survive, be it behavioural or physical, it needs strong foundations, and to be wisely placed, to take the weight and stresses it will be subject to. As you start to build, its cement and structure will be weak. To succeed, you will need scaffolding to support its initially delicate joints and links. You will need to keep on building the scaffolding too, protecting your structure from the wind and rain as you go. But do it right, and the time will come when the scaffolding and covers can be dismantled. Your building will stand tall and strong on its own, serving its purpose, whatever that may be.” Book extract.

Image source: Lego Construction (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The University of tomorrow is …?

I’ve just read this article and wanted to share a couple of thoughts I had while I was reading it: “It’s the end of the university as we know it”

The title is clearly clickbait, testing your resolve to read beyond the tweeted headline, knowing full well ‘the end of the university’ will get people interested (or enraged that this kind of talk is still going on … MOOCs anyone?). That the URL is not the same as the title implies they might change the title at a later stage … “/the-future-of-the-university-is-in-the-air-and-in-the-cloud/”?

Here are some soundbites from the article:

“Shocking as it might seem, there is one catch-all answer that could be the remedy to many of these concerns: Cut the campus loose. Axe the physical constraints. The library? Classrooms? Professors? Take it all away. The future of the university is up in the air.”

Another, when looking at the history of how and why universities are set up like they are:

“It is untenable for universities to continue existing as sanctums for a small group of elite students, taught by top scholars.Technology isn’t only refashioning the ways in which we live and work, but also changing what we need to learn for these new schemes of existence: It’s returning us to a need for specialized learning, for individualized education that is custom-tailored to one’s needs. A world in which most of our learning is more self-directed and practical is, in many ways, a return to an apprenticeship model that existed before industrialization.”

Predictions on the future of learning, at universities at any rate:

Online “cloud” teaching is cheaper; universities can offer such online-based (or majority-online) degrees at the lowest rate—making for a cheap(ish) degree, available to everyone with access to the internet, and taking place completely digitally. Meanwhile, other students will pay a premium to interact with professors and have more of a traditional campus experience. At the highest end, the richest or most elite students may get the full Oxford tutorial experience, brushing elbows with the best of scholars; they’ll just have to pay through the nose for it”

Read the article, let me know what you think – agree or disagree with the tenet of the article, that this is the end of the university?

Image source: Dave Herholz (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leaders and leadership

As part of my journey to being a Learning Technologist, and beyond this role into management and leadership (more on this soon), I have often written and spoken about how us technologists become more visible and respected in the eyes of our academic colleagues. Many of us in our roles do not have the kinds of qualifications academics that they recognise (Masters degrees, etc.) nor do some of us have either the time, inclination or finances to go down this route. From the outset of joining ALT I was interested in CMALT and then gained the qualification, worked towards gaining it and then the three-year renewal process.

How many of us have seen the image below before? The ‘leader’ as someone who is helping and guiding their team to the top in an inclusive and engaging way. Often not the first to the top, often not even reaching the top either, but ensuring no one on the team is left behind and that credit is given to the team for their collective achievements.

Leadership vs. Management

The ‘manager’ or ‘boss’ is someone here who may lead from the front, maybe even thinking they’re showing strong leadership and acting as a role model for their team to follow in their footsteps.


Do you manage or lead? Do you want a manager or leader?
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This may be a gross over-simplification of the two roles, but which would you rather work with? Who would you rather work for? Which environment seems more likely to produce a collegiate or enthusiastic workforce. Which looks like it’ll produce a resentful or dispassionate team?

I have known many people who fit both these roles, personally and professionally, as well as managers and leaders who exhibit characteristics of both generalisations above. Have you? So, what makes a good leader or manager? 

I don’t know. Other than knowing the kind of leader and manager I want to be, it’s all a bit grey-scale to me. How do we grow in the role, grow the team, grow the sense of wellbeing and belonging that we want to feel ourselves, and therefore what we want from the team, how do we do this?

As someone who identifies as an introvert, this isn’t always easy to explain. In fact, thanks to some harsh and very wrong words from a couple of school teachers I always through being an introvert was something to be ashamed of, something less than ‘whole’. I’ve since found an introvert is someone who finds the strength for the day or task ahead from within … indeed a quick google search shows the definition of “a shy, reticent person”. This cannot be further from the truth. I am not shy, I just won’t compete for your time or energy; I have my own and I’m quite happy with it. I may need to recharge more often, but this is simply time I need for myself to reflect and reengage.

In the past few years I’ve learned actually that introverts, and being introverted, is something to be proud of, something that gives me an inner strength that enables me to do more than I thought I could, and more than you thought I could, especially as a leader! Introverts as leaders are a powerful voice, often drowned in the general melee of meetings and gatherings, but you can be sure of one things .. when we’ve something to say it is carefully thought out, carefully planned, and right on the button!

Many meetings are controlled by people with lots to say, often never stopping long enough to listen. But the silence of others in the room shouldn’t be taken as that they’ve nothing to say, it’s as much the fault of those talking in that they never leave any time or space for others to contribute. This isn’t an extrovert vs. introvert face-off either; I’ve known introverts talk too much, trying to fulfil a role they feel uncomfortable in and obliged to fill.

For me this is about knowing when to talk, when to listen, when to engage, when to collaborate, when to manage, when (and how) to bring the conversation back on topic, etc. This is leadership. Those who continually take meetings off topic or use their short time to list every little detail of what they’ve been working on are saying more about their own insecurities than anything else … if the meeting is 30 or 60 minutes, then each person needs to manage themselves and the others to ensure the agenda is covered and everyone has the opportunity to have their input. 

This is why I’m so pleased to hear that ALT are launching a new CMALT initiative for a “senior/leadership CMALT strand will be appropriate for professionals with three or more years of experience, whose role involves learning technology and who are seeking to gain an advanced accreditation.”

While this will not prevent some bias against us from a small number of academics who think we’re not qualified to support or advise them. The fact that my email signature shows “FHEA CMALT” qualifications has opened doors and dialogue as some are interested in what CMALT is and what I had to do to obtain it. From there we’ve broken down a barrier and then it’s up to me to back this up with hard work, effort, leadership, management and myself. And that’s all of me because, as you know, us introverts don’t do anything unless we do it all!!

This is the kind of thing I’ll need, going forward with my role and personal perspectives, so I’m following these developments with interest.

And remember .. there’s always room for Lego ;-)

Some more links on leadership and introverts:

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

‘Wise Guy’ with @GuyKawasaki

I’ve spoken before about the way in which Learning Technologists need to think and act as go-betweens in the institution between the academics, the administrators, the IT helpdesk and IT systems integrators. Oh, and definitely between the institution AND the students. Never forget the students.

We need to be both leaders, managers, workers, liaison, testers, helpdesk, mentors, specialists, visionists (is that a word?), innovators, critical thinkers, creative, entrepreneurs, etc. This is why I believe we should pay attention to how people think, work, collaborate, communicate, etc. outside of our educational roles. Hence I’m recommending you listen to and engage with people like Guy Kawasaki, speaker, entrepreneur, and evangelist.


Learning technologists need to be leaders, managers, workers, mentors, specialists, innovators, creatives, etc. #altc
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I have read quite a bit of Guy Kawasaki’s work that I believe more Learning Technologist can benefit from it. Whether you listen or watch or read about creativity, entrepreneurial activity, disruptive leaders, etc. or just enjoy hearing someone speak passionately about their work, there is something from Guy here for you.

Guy has recently started a new Facebook page in an effort to share his insight and experiences to “help you succeed”. Whilst aspect of this won’t interest or be relevant to Learning Technologist, to understand the wider concept of being creative (disruptive?) will help me/you see where and how we fit our roles and interests into the constraints of our institution and its culture.

Find out more about Wise Guy and Guy Kawasaki, as well as the weekly video episodes, on the ‘Wise Guy’ Facebook page.

“Wise Guy distills Guy Kawasaki’s decades of experience and thirteen books Into short lessons to help you succeed. Guy covers innovation, recruiting, fund raising, branding, and social media. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, small-business owner, intrapreneur, or not-for-profit leader, you’ll get a ton out of this video series.”

I would go further to say that you will learn about how other people view creativity and entrepreneurial activity or thinking, about how you can also use these approaches to foster your own skills (either as an entrepreneur or creative, or working with them) and how you can learn more about yourself. Go on, what have you got to lose?

Image source: Adam Tinworth (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Another three years … what’s next? #CMALT

In November 2013 I finally completed my CMALT portfolio and achieved the much lauded CMALT accreditation. Three (and quite a bit) years later I have successfully completed the required three year review to keep my status as CMALT certified valid. So, what’s happened?

Firstly, for those interested, here are some links to previous posts I’ve written about both the process of gaining CMALT accreditation with the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and what it means to me:

From my submitted review, here is the 500 word summary that is required (but not part of the assessment). Bear in mind the 500 word limit … you try and condense three and a bit years into an effective and appropriate summary for the portfolio!

My current role is so vastly different to the work I was doing when I gained my CMALT back in November, 2013, that it’s quite difficult to ‘update’. This will be a good exercise in understanding how I have changed, within myself, as well as my work and professional outlook.

I joined Warwick Business School (WBS) in May, 2014, as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, a world away from the role I held at Leicester. The main differences are in the line management of a team and the level of responsibility for core Business School activity.

Since first obtaining my CMALT I have

  • developed MOOCs for Warwick University and managed the partnership with FutureLearn,
  • taken an increasingly active role in WBS for aspects of teaching and learning on the world’s no. 1 Distance Learning MBA and on internally developed and run SPOCs, and
  • written two further books on the subjects of educational technology.

For the Warwick MOOCs I have:

These MOOCs have taken me, and my skills, further than I ever could have managed. Not only have I managed the development of these MOOCs (both technically and pedagogically) but I have developed my skills and responsible, across different faculties, for various aspects of the developing online courses, internally for WBS and externally on behalf of Warwick, including:

  • Line managing a team of four excellent videographers who have filmed, edited, rendered, tested and maintained consistently high quality of materials for the Warwick MBA and Warwick MOOCs, including audio manipulation, studio green-screen, on- and off-campus filming duties (author Stephen Fry, on-location filming at John Lewis Partnership and the House of Commons, and the wonderful Sir Ian McKellen).
  • Designing and implementing materials and activities for the Warwick online MBA, to match the course objectives, learning journey, and ensuring the intended outcome and assessment criteria are met.
  • Self- and team-management skills to enable multiple courses to run multiple times each year, as well as planning and maintaining the team’s ability to film and edit materials from multiple sources and for multiple courses.
  • Multi-discipline negotiations on course design and development.
  • Managing facilitator engagement in the run up to new course presentations as well as their engagement and input during each presentation and the differing experiences each cohort of learners bring.

Internally at WBS I work closely with academic groups, module leaders and tutors to develop new modules, redevelop existing ones (based on changes to the subject area and student feedback), engage with the academic groups to share and collaborate across the MBA disciplines and report on developments to the School’s senior management team.

As promised I’ve updated my Google sites CMALT portfolio with a new page for my (first) 3 year review.

So, what will the next three years bring … ? Exciting stuff, cant’ wait!