Conversations

At the moment I’m celebrating some, online, 10th anniversaries – in October 2008 I started blogging, I joined LinkedIn in November 2008 and I joined Twitter in January 2009.

These are quite special, I wasn’t aware of this achievement until I started thinking about something else: conversations. 

When I started blogging and tweeting, and connecting on LinkedIn, I was all about the network and conversations. I was building an interest and understanding of my role (learning technologist), my work place, and the kind of ‘things’ I needed to understand. Now, ten years down the road, 901 blog posts and 50,000 tweets later, I realise that my use of these systems and the networks I’ve built there, are changing. 

Back in March 2017 (“Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you”) I wrote about my disappointment at changes to Twitter; not necessarily about the platform but how it is being used by the user base and my network. What started out, for me and many more like me, it was all about the conversation; the links and collaborative nature of being connected to likeminded individuals on a global scale, the ability to search and question and learn from others in different organisational and societal cultures, to connect and engage with senior or specialists ‘experts’ in the field of EdTech. The conversations and engagement I used to get in the early days of Twitter and LinkedIn have, I’ll admit, help me grow personally and professionally into the senior role I have. I would not have produced, managed, edited and published four books, nor would I have gained the peer-reviewed CMALT qualification, the invitation to be a trustee for the Learn Appeal charity, or the various accolades I’ve collected over the years.

What I get in my timeline feeds now is very different. There are fewer conversations in and around the work or collaboration. What conversations there are seem to be more broadcast approach rather than sharing. Being connected through Twitter or Facebook or other networks has obviously had an affect on us, we are all more informed (?) about world politics, the environment, culture, etc. and this is what most of my timeline is about now. That’s fine, I often add to the noise too, but my primary purpose for Twitter, etc. is work. I want to learn and help others learn about online/distance learning opportunities, be they MOOCs, SPOCs, online degrees, short courses, micro-learning, etc.

I also acknowledge that I have been part of the above problem too, which is why I’m annoyed. Annoyed at myself for setting sucked in and annoyed that I’m getting annoyed at the changes. Change is OK, I don’t have to like it or like what it’s changing to, but I should be able to step back and reassess what it is I want from my networks. That is what i am now doing … reassessing my use of online social tools, Twitter, LinkedIn, this blog, etc. I’ve already dropped a few (and not really noticed), will I drop those too … ?


Conversations are powerful learning opportunities. So why am I annoyed that social networks have changed the conversation?
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There, semi-rant over. Thanks for reading.

Thanks for Sheila MacNeill for inspiring me to blog again. I’ll try and do it more often now; it’s good for the reflective soul searching and a good way to focus and unpick my very full and random thought process. I’ve missed it.

Image source: FHKE (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Let’s MOOC – Führungskräfte lernen mit- und voneinander

Am 17. September startet Daimler einen zweiten MOOC, eine Massive Open Online Conversation, und der Artikel wirbt kräftig für das ungewöhnliche Projekt. Der MOOC soll drei Wochen dauern. Thema ist „Leading Digital, erfolgreich führen in der digitalen Welt“. Hier der Plan:

„So ein MOOC hat keine Referenten und kein Podium, keine Mikrophone, keine Vorlesungen und keine festen Termine. Nur maßgeschneiderte kurze Impulse, mit Bedacht gewählte Expertenbeiträge, Methoden und Werkzeuge, Fallbeispiele, Übungen, Tipps und Tricks, weiterführende Quellen und vor allem eines: Freiraum. Freiraum für weitere Gespräche – über Organisations-, Abteilungs- und Ländergrenzen hinweg. Hier kommt jeder zu Wort.“

Mir gefällt besonders, dass die Organisatoren die Frage, ob es sich bei ihrem Vorhaben um einen cMOOC (hier steht das Netzwerken im Vordergrund) oder um einen xMOOC (hier steht die Informationsvermittlung im Vordergrund) handelt, wirklich elegant durch eine kleine Neuinterpretation des Akronyms gelöst haben: „conversation“ statt „course“!

Die Vorlagen für unternehmensinterne MOOCs (ob „course“ oder „conversation“) sind hierzulande noch an zwei Händen abzuzählen. Deshalb habe ich den/ das Daimler Blog gleich abonniert.
Kati Sommer, Daimler Blog, 5. September 2018

Bildquelle: rawpixel (Unsplash)

Keine Kneipe mehr im Dorf: Eifaer treffen sich an der Baumelbank

Seit dem Winter 2016 gibt es den Dorf-MOOC, einen offenen Online-Kurs, angeboten vom Referat Erwachsenenbildung der evangelischen Kirche von Kurhessen und Waldeck sowie des Zentrums Bildung der evangelischen Kirche in Hessen und Nassau. Im Dorf-MOOC geht es, kurz gesagt, um die Zukunft des ländlichen Raums, heruntergebrochen auf sechs Themenfelder. Offensichtlich zeigt der Kurs bereits Wirkungen. Denn eine der Teilnehmerinnen hat für ihr Dorf, Eifa, daraus die Idee der Baumelbank entwickelt. Der Artikel bringt beides, Kurs und Eifa, zusammen.
Jörg Paulus, HNA, 21. Juli 2018

Bildquelle: mooin

Authenticity

When you buy a new car or buy a new TV you go to a showroom who deals in the car or TV, either it’s an official retailer for the item or it has a reputation you trust. Well, we used to at any rate. It seems these days, and I’m equally guilty of this, we go online and find the cheapest version. There, that’ll do. Even if we use a ‘reputable’ website we may find ourselves buying the £5 USB cable made by a company we’ve never heard of instead of the £15 cable from one we have. “It’s OK, it’s from Amazon, it’ll be OK.” (Other online retailers exist, try them out too sometime!)

Is it the same with our learning? When choosing a college or university we look at a lot of things about it, not only the details of the course and individual topics within it but things like accommodation, proximity to the town or shops, on-campus events, clubs, sports facilities, reviews from previous students, etc. I don’t remember even thinking about who would teach me my degree, I looked into everything BUT the teaching staff. Is this wrong?

It seems different when looking at the different MOOCs on offer, I find myself looking at the course team as much as the course syllabus itself. A MOOC on Shakespeare? Why, yes please … but who wrote it and who’s delivering it? Ahh, a ‘renowned Shakespearean academic’ in Professor Bate and it’s been developed by the University of Warwick (ranked consistently in the UKs’ top 10 universities). That kind of makes up my mind .. even though the course page doesn’t say much about the course contents, other than the promo video

I’ve worked on a number of MOOCs and online courses as well as blended and campus/classroom based courses. There are many differences in what I/we do depending on the audience and delivery method, but the courses that have an element of face-to-face contact doesn’t really need the teacher introduced as part of the designed materials. This is, or should be, done in person. Often the first lecture or contact point with the students will be an introduction made by the teacher on who they are, what their background is and why they are the one who should give the course. Often courses are taught by a team, sometimes led by the senior academic and supported by either junior academics or PhD students. Are they also included in the list of authors or facilitators? They have equal right to be there, especially if the learners have more contact with them (in person or online) than the ‘lead’. This is content given to the students and often not part of the slides they can download for each lecture. There may be some info on the VLE, but is it really enough to showcase the breadth of knowledge behind the course and it’s creation?


Authenticity and credibility in online learning
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For these courses with contact time it seems it doesn’t really matter that this stuff isn’t written in to the course itself. For online courses of any nature or audience it is imperative this information is front and centre. If you can highlight prior to the course (especially for MOOCs) the credibility of the authoring and teaching team it will enhance the authenticity of the course itself.

This is often overlooked in some online courses and is why I insist on having this information front and centre in the courses I work on. This gives the course and the whole course team the credibility to be the ones to deliver and facilitate the course, and it gives the content and materials the authenticity needed to demonstrate to the learners that this team has experience and background to be the best team to lead it.

There are so many options and ways to learn online, sometimes the number of courses on a similar subject exist. So, which one will you choose? The one that looks nice? The cheapest one, or the one that has been developed and delivered by the best team possible, therefore giving you the best possible learning experience?

Yeah, me too.

Image source: Ara Pehlivanian (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Instruction

Following on from my two previous posts which cover my thought process about familiarity in learning design and how distractions can affect both our work and learn environments, I wanted to write about instruction. Instructions we give as well as those we receive.

When you start something new, at work or at home, do you read or follow the instructions? If it’s a new cabinet (Ikea anyone?) or piece of furniture, you’ll probably follow the instructions quite clearly. I know I do. Same with Lego? Yes, me too, although I do like to mess with Lego and see what weird-yet-satisfyingly-symmetrical construction me and my boys can come up with.

Even with new technologies I usually like to read a little of the instructions to get me started, at least to the point where I know how to charge it and when it’s ready to use. These days most modern companies provide some excellent get-you-started instructions with their products; enough for the likes of me who just want to get started, more detailed versions online for those who want to delve deeper. 

When we have a new person join our team we often find ourselves working through an induction programme, introducing them to key people they need to know (IT, HR, estates, etc.) and then spend time showing the ropes in the VLE, LMS, online HR system, file server, phones, etc. See, we take care of our own and make sure they have enough to get started, then step back and give them room to find their feet, all the time being a careful parent ready to step in and answer any questions.


When was the last time you read the induction materials, and I mean read not just link-and-fact checked them?
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But what of our online learners? We have probably developed a full-on induction or on-boarding process for them. We’ve probably not revisited it for a couple of years as well, but have we done too much or too little for our distant and online clients (yes clients … there is a payment transaction going on, even in MOOCs these days). When was the last time you read the induction materials, and I mean read not just link-and-fact checked them? What about getting them tested by someone new to the programme? 

In my time I’ve seen old induction instructions that are out of date, yet still valid because links work and the platform hasn’t changed. That shouldn’t mean we can let them be. In the last few years I’ve seen major changes in how different learning platforms are used. What they do are still mostly the same, but how we use them is constantly, or should be constantly changing. Therefore the induction programme should also be changed to reflect that too. Again, it’s not just about the click-this and click-that instructions, but the information around why we are asking students to do something that needs checking.

What do you do then? Do you keep referring back to those initial instructions throughout the courses, reminding the learner about the tools or help available, or do you rely on them remembering it and, hopefully, reviewing the induction programme? When you use a different or new tool with the learners do you write some guide for them, on both the how it works and why you’re using it? I bet you do, but do you go and add it to the induction programme for the next cohort of learners? You should.

For me the process of inducting learners to your organisation or platform never ends, or rather ends when they complete the course or programme and ‘graduate’. If they’re studying a three year degree it’s an easy bet that the tools and how you use them will change (again, SHOULD change!) over the lifespan of their studies. If your learners are only with you for a short while, a matter of weeks, then there’s still no reason to not keep them informed with either email communications or VLE announcements when they’re going to encounter something new as part of their learning. If they’re used to MCQs week on week,  then you start using discussion boards, then a reminder about what they are, what you expect from the learning in the discussion, and how to use them is a good way to introduce the activity.

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

Familiarity

Over the years and role changes I’ve used a variety of different VLEs. From Blackboard to FutureLearn, and from custom in-house developed VLE to customised large-scale MOOC platform. So, how important is familiarity when working, designing and developing on these platforms?

Firstly, are we talking about the familiarity I need to navigate the multitude of features and processes to get the course built and delivered? Or do we mean the familiarity the learner needs in order to have a smooth and tangible learning experience, whether they sit down and structure their learning or dip in as and when they can? Let’s try and deal with both.

Explain everything

  • For me: If you’re new to the platform it’s good to write notes to yourself as you do something new, work out how a feature works, etc. This is also a great resource for you or the rest of the team to open discussion around the how and why of particular approach to presenting a learning resource. Keep ideas, plans, design/colour schemes, times, asset library, etc. all in one place for easy reference. 
  • For the learner: Accept that the learner may not have read your carefully scripted course page or expensive course promo video and repeat it at the beginning of the course. The odds are that you put a lot of effort into that content so make sure it’s of use at the start of the course. It will need to be modified, you don’t need the marketing/promotional terminology here, so make sure it reads like the rest of the course (the ‘voice’ of the learning). Carry this approach to the whole course, not just the start: explain why you’ve included a video to watch and what the learner should think about while they watch it. Explain the structure of the course and what it means for their journey, and how the journey ends. And what happens after that. 

Structure and navigation

  • For me: A new platform will mean a lot of different, well, everything! Who hosts, manages or supports the platform? Who are they, where are they, when are they available? Make them your new BFF and ask for help as well as providing a fresh pair of eyes and offer feedback from your own experience on other platforms to see if you can provide efficiencies or development to improve. Always ask questions and always explain why, as well as showing them your results. 
  • For the learner: A consistent structure and navigation to the course will help the learner feel more comfortable and relaxed, therefore are more likely to retain the knowledge you’re presenting them with. As with the previous item, explain how the structure works, explain how to use the navigation, and above all keep the consistency of design that you’ve worked hard to develop. If you use colour of font size as a code of activity or resource identification, use it every time (you’ d be surprised how often I’ve seen inconsistencies, usually across courses rather than within the same course).

Example: FutureLearn navigation, Warwick’s ‘Leadership for healthcare improvement and innovation’.

Template

  • For me: Personally I hate templates or a forced way of working, but the method and structure they offer are hard to ignore. There’s a reason why templates work and that, as I mentioned previously, provides a consistency across courses, programmes, and team members. if you’re working in isolation, then the template probably doesn’t make sense to you as you already know what you’re doing. If you working a part of a larger team then the template provides the working structure you all need to adhere to to get that consistency I talked about.
  • For the learner: The template should not be something the learner ever really notices. The template is there to provide a consistent learning experience for the learner. If it works they wont notice it. If it fails they’ll complain of not understanding what they should be doing, or when, or how, or why. The template will provide familiarity and structure.

Text and images

  • For me: Nothing bores me more than a course full of pages and pages of text, no visual cue at all as to what’s happening. If nothing else a well placed image showing the general theme or topic helps bring the page to life. While some subjects are clearly more visual than others, there’s no excuse for not using some Creative Commons or licensed images, a YouTube video also explaining the subject, concept, interview with an expert, educator, practitioner, etc. While we try and accommodate as many styles of presenting learning materials, and those materials often reach us from the educator in text form, we would not be doing our job if we didn’t try and find a visual solution to break the text blocks up, even if it’s only a different way of presenting the text.
  • For the learner: if the learner wanted to read a textbook to gain the knowledge and qualification from the course, they’d that. Often what one learner likes is not what another likes. While one person can read book after book and retain the knowledge easily many cant, me being one of them. The inclusion of different sorts of activities helps, but so do different approaches to presenting the learning materials: image, charts, photos, infographics, video interviews, to-camera teaching presentations, video case studies, high-profile documentaries (check the ownership and originality if you’re using these from YouTube), etc. There’s always a way to bring something visual to the course.

Example: Documentary – DHL International Supply Chain, loaded to YouTube by DHL.

… now make an activity out of it, introduce some questions that the video can help with but requires the learner to go further afield to find answers and more resources for. Make the image or video part of the learning, not the learning itself.

Langauge

  • For me: If the whole team uses the term ‘page’ or ‘step’ to indicate a different element of a learning package, then be sure you all use that term. By using a variety of different terms to mean the same thing you will forever be translating instructions from one source to another for different things. Something will always get lost in the translation, mistakes will be made no matter how hard you try, and there will be more work down the line when you have to unravel the mess. Be sure the terms you use within the team are consistent (that word again) and appropriate. If you work with a new educator who’s used to different terms and ways of working then open the dialogue and work out what’s best – do they change to accommodate you and your team, or do you change your processes to accommodate them? Decide early on and stick to it! 
  • For the learner: No one wants to read a course that is heavy in jargon, acronyms, complicated academic terminology or badly presented materials. No one. Even if you’re writing for advanced Masters level students you should still use appropriate language, explain an acronym, and avoid jargon. You obviously don’t want to dumb the language down so it sounds like you’re being condescending to them, but there is a level that is acceptable. Find it, stick to it, and test it!

Familiarity in learning has always been about consistency – consistency in the approach to design and present the materials, consistency in language appropriate to the level of the course and the intended audience, consistency in quality of photos or images or videos, consistency in length of pages or steps. By being consistent in what you do and how you do it your course will also offer a consistency the learner will become accustomed to, which will bread familiarity and comfort with. From here it will be easier to follow the learning and complete the course.

Image source: Pete Birkinshaw (CC BY 2.0)

When everything changes

Well, it’s over four months since my last blog post, and the longest gap in my 9 year blogging ‘career’. 

Why is that? Well, apart from being busy starting and defining a new role in a new industry, I’ve not really had that much to say. I’ve tweeted, I’ve connected with people on LinkedIn, I’ve travelled (and posted photos of it, like this and this and this). I’ve rested. I’ve worked hard and lost lots of sleep over it too. 

Oh, and we got kittens too! Mostly the bite or chew everything (including the wires), but sometimes they settle down and keep me company in my home office.

But what’s only struck me really in the last few days is the lack of interest in this blog. From me. I am still active on Twitter, I’m still learning about my ‘craft’ and still learning about my new role in an exciting start-up. I’m reading and writing a lot on ageing and the wellbeing of older people, it’s just not on this blog or even in the public arena. Yet. 

Let me also be honest here, it’s not just the working environment that’s changed (shared open-plan office to my spare room acting as a home office) or the industry I’m working in (UK university to global start-up, or business school to medical/healthcare specialists), the change is in and because of me. I am constantly seeing change in my attitude and approach to issues, problems, solutions, conflict, design, learning, remoteness, connectedness (is that a word?) and my general social demeanour.

Yes, tweeting is fun and hopefully will continue to be (but then again, maybe not) but I’ve always prided myself on this blog and the way it helped me network, collaborate, communicate, reflect, etc. with everyone ‘out there’. I am still reading around the various disciplines of online/distance learning, MOOCs, etc. and putting the ideas and designs to good use. I still join online courses, not so many MOOCs these days, both for personal enjoyment and professional curiosity. I am growing as an individual and a professional, and the journey ahead is all new to me, again, and exciting too.

The rest is the future. Using the skills from my CMALT journey and as an assessor I continue to evaluate and reflect on what I do, why I do it, how it can be better (or at least different), and how I can be better (and sometimes different too). I don’t want to stand still, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one role or a ‘one trick pony’. I am too dynamic for that – I’m not being big headed or facetious for saying this, nor am I being cocky or rude. I mean dynamic in so much as forever looking forward and around me, observing and capturing, learning from others to improve myself and my work. 

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. (William Pollard)

Image source: Simon and his camera (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)

Books as Open Online Content #BOOC

In the past 10 years as a learning technologist or eLearning consultant, I’ve come across many new ideas, concepts, techniques, technologies, methods, cultures, etc. I’ve learned about open source software and open badges and open access journals, and open courses. Now I’ve just learned about open books, specifically BOOCs (Books as Open Online Content).

What is a BOOC?

“These innovative ‘living books’ feature articles of various types, in a non-linear thematic presentation that offers readers the option to select and sort subjects they wish to read. With long and short articles, blogs, videos, audio and Storifys, these ‘books’ grow over a period of time.” UCL Press.


Books as innovative 'living' books? Yes, really! Read more from @hopkinsdavid #learning
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How I see the BOOC is that it’s a free ebook, but not something for your Kindle or Kobo or eReader. This is a browser based resource that can be text, image, video or audio based (ideally a mix of all of them?) that can build and expand as the authors continue to research and write. The platform that UCL has built is really good, for the explanation of BOOCs, that enables the content to the flagged/tagged under one of four headings, each displayed graphically using different colours (as below). The content is capable of being in more than one ‘category’ so you can read this BOOC from the perspective of ‘libraries’, ‘publishing’, ‘bookselling’, or ‘academic’.

There are many instances where, when wanting to read and learn about something, the most up to date and highly respected book is still out of date. For example, any reference book or ‘how-to’ book is out of date as soon as the author has written it. Then you add the lead time, production and publication time to the equation, and the latest ‘best’ book on the subject could be as much as a year out of date. Anything I want to read about my own interests (learning technology, social media, etc.) falls into this category. To get around this I read mostly blogs and long articles I find and am pointed to by friends on Twitter. This does not mean I get the whole picture, just one view.

A BOOC (researched, references, and peer-reviewed) would help me here? Yes, it’ll still take time to write and review all the content, but it can be ‘released’ in chunks / sections as they become available, enabling the information to be read and used, the authors can get valuable feedback and keep previously released material up to date while progressing the rest. I’m sure it’d be a huge production to do something like this, but exciting none the less? 

I like this. I’m sure there are some WordPress themes that could also handle something similar, along with a clever developer, if not a dedicated website template.

“BOOC is not the answer to the question, ‘What will the academic book of the future be?’ – and it doesn’t claim to be. It is, however, the tangible result of a great deal of consultation, discussion, innovation, and perseverance. It represents some of the issues – contentious, complicated, deep-rooted, emerging, and provocative – that confront everyone who engages with academic publication.” Dr. Rayner.

What do you think? Is this a route you’d use for your own academic authoring and publishing? Would you read a ‘book’ like this, knowing it’s (a) not complete, but (b) kept up to date and features  feedback and changes in the subject / topics?

Image source: modified from Brian Smithson (CC BY 2.0)