Changing the Responsibility for Learning

Last week has been a busy week with both the E-learning Event and a webinar for En Nu Online. I’ll share some of the presentations that I did in this short post.


Based on my presentation at last year’s E-learning Event I was interviewed by the Tijdschrift voor Coaching about culture and the quantified self. You can read a PDF of the Dutch interview by clicking the image below:

Culture and the Quantified Self

Culture and the Quantified Self


Marcel de Leeuwe and I hosted a session at the E-learning Event on Do-It-Yourself learning (building on what we had done earlier at the Masie conference last year). The slides are available on SlideShare.

We copied one of Mitra’s Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) experiments and gave all the attendees a challenging assignment to be solved by themselves in groups of four while Marcel and I walked out of the room for 20 minutes. This gave us interesting results: the attendees had no problem engaging with the assignment and were hard to stop after 20 minutes of discussion, while Marcel at the same was struggling with letting go (“Can we please check whether they are doing ok? Shouldn’t we tell them they only have 10 minutes left?”). This taught us that it is often our own behaviour as educators that is an inhibitor for people making themselves responsible for their own learning.

Minimally invasive pedagogy (as Mitra calls it) could then be a way to battle the now pervasive learned helplessness.


During the boardroom session at the E-Learning event I worked with Marcel (again) and Ruud Smeulders to deliver a masterclass on Learning Business Models. I’ll publish a full post about that session a little bit later.


In the webinar for En Nu Online we also discussed self-organized (or self-directed) learning. I did a short presentation, explained my rules for a Socratic conversation and then we discussed on the basis of a few questions. One interesting topic we addressed was the balance between providing a safe learning environment while at the same luring the learner into a stretch or into a zone where they are less comfortabe. The webinar has been recorded (there were some technical issues during the start, heroically battled by Sibrenne Wagenaar and Joitske Hulsebosch). You can view the Dutch recording on YouTube:

Self Organized Learning Environments: An Assignment

This post is an assignment for the participants of the “Sociale media voor Leren en Veranderen in Organisaties en Netwerken”-leergang by En Nu Online.
(Click here to get a Google Translated Dutch version of this post).

Last February Sugata Mitra was awarded the TED prize for 2013. The prize money will help him carry out his wish:

My wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online. I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries.

Watch Mitra describe his plans here:

I can’t link to this video without also linking to some of the criticism of his work. Audrey Watters raises some questions about, among other things, the history of schooling as it is told in the video, about (neo-)colonialism and about the commercial interests. Donald Clark lists 7 reasons for doubting Mitra’s success story.

Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE)

According to Mitra you can organize a Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) for children by putting multiple children in a group, adding some broadband Internet and some encouragement and then drop in what he calls “curiosity catalysts”: large, open, difficult and interesting questions for these groups of children to answer. Self-driven learning is also becoming a current topic in professional development. See this post by Jane Hart as one example. We will explore whether Mitra’s thinking can help us in the workplace.

Basic assignment

For this assignment please do the following:

  1. Please download the Mitra SOLE toolkit from the TED website
  2. Read the toolkit
  3. Answer the following three questions by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog post:
    • What might be the key differences between child-driven learning (self-organized, curious, engaged, social, collaborative, motivated by peer-interest, fueled by adult encouragement and admiration) and the way adults learn?
    • What are the skills of a self-learning professional? How can professionals be supported in their self-directed learning?
    • What curiosity catalysts can you think of that you could ask your direct colleagues (or customers)? Think of two good questions.
  4. Find a new web-resource about self-directed learning (or self-organized learning, do-it-yourself learning, new-fashioned learning etc.) and post it as a comment on this blog post. It is “new” when nobody has posted it here before (so be quick!). It would be interesting to know why you chose this resource in particular.

Bonus assignment

There is no better way to judge how something works then to try it out. Starting from page 9 of the Mitra SOLE toolkit there is a home assignment: create a SOLE for children in your own home.

It would be wonderful if some of you could try this out with a group of children. Of course you will then send your feedback to Mitra and his team, but a comment here on the blog and/or some thoughts during the seminar are well appreciated too.

Only the Autodidacts Are Free – Why I Have a Personal Library

Antifragile
Antifragile

Antifragile

I’ve been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile, Things That Gain from Disorder. I’ve portioned the book into 30 daily chunks of 14 pages each and post a Tweet about those 14 pages every day.

The following passage is one of my favourites in the book so far. It very much aligns with my thinking about what is wrong with schools, education and learning. I will certainly use (part of) this argument in my next talk on the topic of Do-It-Yourself Learning (and to anybody who tries to tell me I should get rid of my books). To understand the title of this paragraph it is important to realize that Taleb calls the attempt to suck randomness out of life touristification.

Below, from page 242-243, The Touristification of the Soccer Mom (used without permission):

The biologist and intellectual E.O. Wilson was once asked what represented the most hindrance to the development of children; his answer was the soccer mom. [..] His argument is that they repress children’s natural biophilia, their love of living things. But the problem is more general; soccer moms try to eliminate the trial and error, the antifragility, from children’s lives, move them away from the ecological and transform them into nerds working on pre-existing (soccer-mom-compatible) maps of reality. Good students, but nerds—that is, they are like computers except slower. Further, they are now totally untrained to handle ambiguity. As a child of civil war, I disbelieve in structured learning—actually I believe that one can be an intellectual without being a nerd, provided one has a private library instead of a classroom, and spends time as an aimless (but rational) flâneur benefiting from what randomness can give us inside and outside the library. Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living, compared to the stuctured, fake, and ineffective life of an empty-suit CEO with a preset schedule and an alarm clock. Even their leisure is subjected to a clock, squash between appointments. It is as if the mission of modernity was to squeeze every drop of variability and randomness out of life—with [..] the ironic result of making the world a lot more unpredictable, as if the godesses of chance wanted to have the last word.

Only the autodidacts are free. And not just in school matters—those who decommoditize, detouristify their lives. Sports try to put randomness in a box like the ones sold in aisle six next to canned tuna—a form of alienation.

If you want to understand how vapid are the current modernistic arguments (and understand your existential priorities), consider the difference between lions in the wild and those in captivity. Lions in captivity live longer; they are technically richer, and they are guaranteed job security for life, if these are the criteria you are focusing on…

As usual, an ancient, here Seneca, detected the problem (and the difference) with his saying “We do not study for life, but only for the lecture room,” non vitae, sed scolae discimus [..].

This is a book that is incredibly rich with ideas. Please look beyond Taleb’s antics and read it.

Nine Challenges for the Learning Department (Based on Masie’s Learning 2012)

In late October I attended Elliot Masie’s Learning Conference. I’ve blogged extensively about each individual session, but want to use this post to lift out the larger themes that I saw at the event and to ask the corporate learning departments a few challenging questions that relate to these themes.

Personalized Learning

A few years back Wayne Hodgins and Eric Duval started talking about the Snowflake Effect. They gave examples of media channels providing personalized offerings (think Last.fm) and could see this coming for learning too. Every learner is different (just like a snowflake) and has individual needs. Richard Culatta did a talk on personalized learning that resonated with his audience. He had a simple definition of what it means to personalize: you need to adjust the pace, you need to adjust the learning approach and you need to leverage the learner’s experiences and interests.

I would like to pose the following challenge to the corporate learning department: For every learning experience that you design, do you ask yourself: How would I design this if I had an audience of one?

Mobile and Video

The two hottest technologies at the conference clearly were mobile and video. Mobile learning technology is still in the early stages. There was a lot of debunking and few excellent or even interesting examples. I guess you could say that mobile learning is in the “through of disillusionment” from the perspective of Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

Video seemed to be further along the curve as there were many more concrete examples of video being used for learning (my personal favorite was how Masie kept connecting “over video” to people who were standing in the room next door). I was disappointed to see that most debates were very practical (e.g. about what equipment to use and how to create good quality audio) and often did not discuss how best to use video in learning. The practical debates occasionally lacked a bit of depth too. I didn’t hear anybody talk about searching, annotating and indexing video for example.

A few challenging questions for the corporate learning department: Have you invested in a platform to deliver video? Can this platform deliver to mobile devices? How do the videos get (socially) contextualized? Is there a way to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) into the company, are you connected with the team that works on this?

Do-It-Yourself or Self-Directed Learning

Marcel de Leeuwe and I hosted a workshop on this topic and created the website doityourselflearning.org. I was pleasantly surprised to see that other were also talking about this shift.

Two trends are pushing this forward:

  1. Many companies are turning into information companies with knowledge workers doing complex tasks. These knowledge workers are the only people who can understand their job (barely!). This makes programmatic (i.e. curriculum based) learning offerings designed by others largely ineffective.
  2. The world is incredibly connected and the tools for collaboration can, for all practical purposes, be considered to be free. People can organize their own learning groups.

My challenge to the learning department is the following: Which of the five DIY imperatives (devolve responsibility, be open, create experiences rather than content, provide scaffolding and stimulate reflection) are you practicing?

IT Development Methodologies for Learning Content Development

I attended two sessions that explicitly talked about IT development methodologies applied to learning content development. One was about using hackathons and the other about Agile. There is a lot of inspiration to be found in how people write software that can be applied to how people develop learning (yes, I do understand the irony of this if you compare this to the previous point: but I still think designed experiences are useful for many occasions). If you look closely at the principles behind the Agile manifesto, then you see how easy these can be translated to learning: learner satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful learning experiences, welcome changing requirements (even late in development), learning experiences are delivered frequently (weeks rather than months), sustainable development (able to maintain a constant pace), close and daily co-operation between business people and developers, face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location), projects are built around motivated individuals (who should be trusted), continuous attention to technical excellence and good design, simplicity (the art of maximizing the amount of work not done) is essential, self-organizing teams, and regular adaptation to changing circumstances.

So here is my challenge for the learning department: Do you know and understand the cutting edge IT development methodologies like Agile, Scrum, Extreme programming? Have you thought about how these could be applied to your learning development process?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

At the beginning of the year barely anybody had heard about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Today this seems to be the hottest topic in the educational technology field. Any Masie attendee that hadn’t heard about MOOCs before they came to the conference certainly had heard about it by the time they left. I attended an interesting session by Curtis Bonk. Audrey Watters has probably done the best write-up so far on how they work and what they mean (don’t miss all her other posts on the Ed-Tech Trends of 2012). I also enjoyed this podcast with Arnold Kling which discusses some of the issues with how MOOC in their institutionalized form work.

I want to create two different challenges for the learning department around MOOCs. The first one is based on the approach by the big universities (xMoocs): Have you thought about how the principles behind MOOCs around scaling the normal educational process can be applied to your company? Could this be an efficient way to scale a 20 person classroom to a 2000 or 20000 person “classroom”? The second challenge comes from the original MOOCs (cMOOCS): Can you create a corporate course which is divergent, distributed, virtual, exploratory and scales at the same time? What would that course be about?

Neurological Research

Most learning profesionals don’t spend enough time looking at how our brains work and how that could be used in designing learning experiences. A few years ago John Medina wrote a very readable book translating the current state of brain research into actionable insights:

This year’s Masie conference had two keynote speakers that have created popular science books riding on top of the advances in neurology: Susan Cain on introversion and Charles Duhigg on forming habits. After reading my posts on these, Bert De Coutere connected me to Tiny Habits, a brain science inspired approach to changing behaviour.

Another challenge for the learning department: How many of your design heuristics are based on opinion, mimesis or history rather than on brain science? How do you keep up to date on the latest developments in brain science?

Focus on Cultural (and Organizational) Change

Even though I can’t pinpoint a session that I attended on this topic, I could feel how a shift towards organizational dynamics rather than personal dynamics was underlying many of the discussions. Learning in corporations often is about changing the behaviour or attitudes of large groups of people (I propose to rename the learning department to “the indoctrination department”). Making the organization rather than the learner the unit of change would change many things.

Even though it is early days for this, I would like to put out the following challenge: Imagine that your job is not to make an individual competent, but to change the culture inside an organization (e.g. maybe to become more innovative or to go from a “service provider to a consultative mindset”. What will you do differently?

Data as a Mystery

Learning analytics is all the rage. Also at the Masie Learning conference. Nigel Paine said the following for example:

Data is important. You should have the data from your organization and try and get some insights from it. Most people never take the trouble to go through the data.

I have serious issues with the current approaches to learning analytics:

  • Learning analytics is nearly always seen as a top-down initiative that can be used to steer and manage. I believe it should be used as an empowerment tool to speed up and enrich the feedback cycle for learners (also see my post on a talk by Erik Duval).
  • Everybody seems to be focused on capturing as much data as possible and using fancy (preferably iPad enabled) graphing and dynamic visualization technologies. Nobody seems to be asking interesting questions that can be answered by analyzing data.

My challenge to the learning department is related to that second point: What interesting (and difficult) learning related questions can you get an answer to, now that data capturing and visualization tools have become ubiquitous?

Patents and Licensing

I was shocked to hear Elliott Masie talk about a patent troll in the learning technology space. An article by Steven Levy in this month’s Wired gave me some more ridiculous examples. The law is important and if you don’t think about patents, copyright and trademarks then they might come and haunt you later on.

Very few corporations think about the license that they use for their learning content. Often the copyright of any work will just be with the company and all rights will be reserved. This might not be the best or smartest thing to do. Creative Commons licenses are one of the enablers of Open Educational Resources. Creating OERs could lead to much more flexibility around corporate content and might even create synergies in industries that can transcend individual corporations. This is a dynamic space with interesting debates (see the discussion on the non-commercial clause for example ,via Downes).

This is probably the most “advanced” challenge in this post: Have you thought about turning your learning content and courses into open educational resources (OER)? What could be the business case for OER in a corporation?

I would love to hear from you which challenges you’ve decided to pick up. Will you please share them in the comments?

Do It Yourself Learning at Masie’s Learning 2012

Marcel de Leeuwe and I hosted a session at Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012 about Do It Yourself Learning. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously preparing for the session and created a special website for the conference: doityourselflearning.org.

Why DIY?

One of the Learning 2012 buttons

One of the Learning 2012 buttons

There are a few things happening in the corporate learning world:

  • The business is changing faster than the Learning function can keep up with.
  • Effectiveness of learning is low with constant questions of the Return on Investment.
  • Knowledge work (defined by Drucker as that work that can only the knowledge worker themselves can understand) is so complex that no curriculum can be made that can fit the very personal needs of each professional.
  • There is a high mobility for employees, making it hard to defend investing in them.

At the same time the world is changing:

  • Much of the world is globally connected.
  • Effective tools for collaboration are ubiquitous and cheap.

This means that learners will start organizing their own learning. They will become their own designers and the role of the learning function will have to change.

Principles

We thought of five imperatives for the learning function to enable DIY learning and empower their staff:

  1. Devolve responsibility
  2. Be open
  3. Design experiences
  4. Provide scaffolding
  5. Stimulate reflection

Examples

To give people some idea of what DIY could look like we listed a set of examples: Self Organizing Learning Environments (SOLEs), MOOCs, Open Space Technology, a Juggling Convention, Yammer, World Without Oil, Uncollege, a virtual reading group and Livemocha.

We are always looking for new examples.

A DIY Manifesto

Through a very energetic process (first collaborative and then argumentative) the group of participants came up with a tentative set of statements for a Do It Yourself Learning Manifesto:

A big you thank you to everybody who participated!