Learning from the Outside, How External Focus Can Help Learning and Development

This presentation delivered on April 19 for the Irish Centre for Business Excellence Network tries to address why things are not changing fast enough in the (corporate) learning world by pointing out that we often fail to look to the outside. We rely on benchmarking without realising that this will never get us ahead of the game. We try to implement best practices rather than focus on emergent practice. Changing this requires finding our edge and trying to see what you can learn from there. For corporations and organisations the edge can be found in things like the consumerisation of IT, open source, experimental academia and the startup world.

You can download the presentation as a PDF or watch in on SlideShare:

I’ve used many sources to create the presentation. Here are all the relevant links in context.

In the past I have thought a bit about seredendipity and have written a few blogposts about the topic.

Bert De Coutere describes how Learning and Development is stuck in his blog post Learning got stuck in itself…. Steve Wheeler writes about the differences between upstairs (where the Learning Technologies conference was held) and downstairs (where the learning vendors could tout their wares) in his post titled Upstairs downstairs.

If you are interested to learn more about Omphaloskepsis, check out this Wikipedia article.

The following three companies (among many others) offer benchmarking in the learning space: Corporate University Exchange, BrandonHall and Bersin (their benchmarking data for 2011 is available here).

Youngme Moon has written a book titled Different in which she explains why products in a category all become alike. Harold Jarche reviews the book in a blog post titled Different – Review. In that review he refers to Tim Kastelle who lifts stwo diagrams out of Moon’s book in Be Great at One Thing. I remade the diagrams using the excellent Inkscape.

The Wikipedia page about the Cynefin Framework isn’t bad. Dave Snowden’s Harvard Business Review article about his framework and how it can help with leadership is titled Leader’s Framework for Decision Making (and maybe I should credit Mary E. Boone for once).

Automattic is an amazing company. They create and host the wordpress.com platform (more information). The Automattic creed is available on Matt Mullenweg’s website. Matt gets interviewed here. This map shows where all the “Automatticians” are located. Check out this page if you want to know more about Automattic or are interested in working for them.

If you want to know more about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) you should start here and then quickly move on to what Stephen Downes writes in his piece What a MOOC Does. The MOOC example I decided to reference in the presentation is Digital Storytelling also known as DS106.

The term Edupunk was coined in Jim Groom’s post The Glass Bees and quickly got its own Wikipedia article. Stephen Downes tied together a few good posts about the topic here and this article on BlogHer could also be a good start.

The big open online courses that are now fashionable and are starting to get a commercial face (Coursera and Udacity) owe their debts to MOOCs and the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).

If you want to be kept up to date about learning technology “on the edge” then your best bet is likely to pay close attention to Audrey Watters’ blog Hack Education (not mentioned in my presentation).

Mozilla‘s mission page is here and it is worthwile reading their whole manifesto. Their Open Badges program is getting a lot of deserved attention and could always use more participants. You can read about all their learning plans on their Learning Wiki, this is also the place to go to if you want to get involved.

If you are interested in becoming more entrepreneurial and innovative, regardless of whether you have your own business or are working in a company/organisation, you can’t do better than read The Lean Startup.

Erik Duval on Learning Analytics at the e-Learning Event

Erik Duval is a professor at the Catholic University in Leuven. His team works on Human Computer Interaction. In the last few years, he has done a lot of work around Learning Analytics, which he defines as being about collecting traces that learners leave behind and using those traces to improve learning.

His students at the university do everything (and he means everything) using blogs and Twitter. He stopped giving lectures and instead works with students in a single place a few times a week. This makes it very hard for him to follow what is going on. The number of posts that are generated in his courses are too many for him to read them all. If you are facilitating a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this gets worse. This is why we do learning analytics. This has a lot of attention now with a conference and a Society for Learning Analytics Research

Nike+ Fuelband

Nike+ Fuelband

Next he mentions the quantified self movement: self-knowledge to self-tracking. If a tool gives you a good mirror about your behaviour, then this might make it easier to actually change your behaviour. He showed many examples from the consumer market (i.e. Nike+ Fuelband or the Fitbit. He is trying to see if you could develop similar applications for learning. Imagine setting a goal for how many words you want to learn every day and a device that shows you how many you’ve learned for the day. He wants to create awareness in the student, so that they can “drive” themselves better. This is different from the current efforts in learning analytics where they are mostly used to give more information to the institution (Duval doesn’t like that). He showed us an example of the dashboard that he uses to see the student’s activity on the blogs and on Twitter. The students have access to this information too and can see that data for their peers: openness and full transparency. This measuring leads to externalities that aren’t necessarily good (think students writing tweetbots to get good score). Duval depends on the self-regulating abilities of the group of students.

At the beginning of each course he tells his student that everything will be open in the course. He might have a debate about this, but he never gives in. He doesn’t think you can become an engineer without having the ability to engage openly with the society. If a student has very conscionable objections around privatey, then he sometimes allows them to publish under an alias.

If you collect a lot of data about people, then you can make technology enhanced learning more of an exact (i.e. hard) science. He wrote a paper titled: Dataset-driven Research for Improving Recommender Systems for Learning.

This whole field has a couple of issues:

  • What can we measure? Time, time spent artefact produced, socal interactions, location. Many other things might be important.
  • Privacy might become an issue: we will know so many things about everybody. One solution might be Attention Trust which defines four consumer rights for your (attention) data: property, mobility, economy and transparency. Our idea about privacy is changing, he referred to Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis.
  • When does support become enslaving (see this blogpost)

His solution for the problems (once again): openness.

Duval’s talk had a lot of similarities with the talk I will be delivering tomorrow. Luckily we both come from slightly different angles and don’t share all our examples. If you attended his talk and didn’t enjoy his, then you can skip mine! If you loved it, come and get more tomorrow morning.

Massive Online Learning Communities, The Future of Education?

Philipp Schmidt (CC-license by Joi Ito)

Philipp Schmidt (CC-license by Joi Ito)

Philipp Schmidt from the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) talked about big online learning communities. P2PU is non-profit organization that runs an open source platform that you can use to run courses. Their starting point (and that of their community) is not the institution. Their three values are: peer learning, community and open. Here are my quick notes on his talk.

There is a wave of Massive Online Courses that has captured the imagination of academics. Philipp considers things like WordPress and Wikipedia the starting point for collaborating at scale. Another thing that is at the roots of this movement is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig from Stanford have shown us that it is possible not only to scale content, but also scale assignments and assessments. More than 100.000 people registered for the course and around 25.000 students actually finished this very hard course. Thrun has now left Stanford and has started the for-profit Udacity in which he is trying to help companies with finding good computer programmers by selling the performance data of students in their courses. Other people from Stanford have started Coursera. Another example is MITx which will offer a portfolio of MIT course for free for virtual communities around the world.

This part of the MOOC universe has received a lot of attention, but there is a parallel reality of people who have been experimenting with this for a long time. Jonathan Worth, for example, teaches photography. Jim Groom is the poster boy for Edupunk. He runs a course called Digital Storytelling 106. At Virginia Tech they are running a course titled The Plaid Avenger. Nearly all these courses use open source and free tools that they open to the world. They invite people in and manage to attract great speakers because of the amount of students they manage to sign up for these courses. There is likely a much larger community than we can expect.

So what does this all mean? Thrun has said that he cannot go back to Stanford again to teach a normal course. Lots of people online are denouncing the university because of the alternative to them that these massive open courses show. Philipp is interested in thinking about how you would scale online courses in a way that doesn’t stink. P2PU has done some experiments in their School of Webcraft with self-paced and self-directed problem-based (“challenges”) courses. There are a few areas to consider:

  • Open content
  • Allocation of expertise
  • Assessment
  • Recognition/Certification
  • Community

I will definitely continue the conversation with him on each of these topics.