If Frank Coffield had a blog I would certainly have it in my list of RSS subscriptions.
Thanks to Donald Clark I've just read Prof. Coffield's inaugural lecture (Word doc) for the Institute for Education in London. It's called: "Running Ever Faster Down the Wrong Road: An Alternative Future for Education and Skills". In it he eloquently describes the situation the learning & skills sector (post-compulsory education) is in, and offers well-researched suggestions for a "fundamental redesign" that will not necessarily "rock the boat", but will stop it "hitting the iceberg" it is currently heading towards at full speed.
Can this disorganised, troubled but pivotal sector still be turned into a learning system? That would require politicians and policy makers to change some of their fundamental beliefs and practices and to think and talk differently; institutions to reorder their priorities in favour of pedagogy; and professionals to be given the space and resources to improve their existing expertise. The chances are very slim, but it could be done.
He makes the point at the beginning of the lecture that the learning & skills sector is not unique in this situation, and there are parallels in every sector of education (and other public services):
The same fault lines or, to change the metaphor, the same malaises, run through the reform agenda of government whether they affect the primary, secondary, higher education or post-compulsory sector (or the health service or the probation service, for that matter).
Prof. Coffield has also recently criticised the DfES booklet on Learning Styles, calling for its withdrawal, saying "The booklet is woefully uninformed about research. It is also impractical, patronising, uncritical and potentially dangerous to students." (Source: IoE press release)
I couldn't agree more. The whole concept of learning styles is fragmented into dozens of different models that to use just one model, and to apply it in every case to every student at every time is going to cause far more problems than it solves.
For me, its important to recognise that different people learn best in different ways at different times in different contexts and with different subject matter. And that's where I would want to leave it. The use of learning styles questionnaires is too blunt an instrument to be at all useful.
NB. It looks like the booklet has been withdrawn. But a search will still turn it up on various school and local authority websites.
This podcast (15Mb) is a well thought out description of the approach in Scotland to using new technologies to support teacher CPD, and the implications of using those technologies.
The podcast is supported by a blog post, and was produced as part of the K12 Online Conference in 2006.
I was talking with some of my fellow learners on the Hull MEd course today. It was one of the rare occasions when we actually meet up face-to-face - it's not built into the course but there were enough people in the vicinity of Sheffield to make it worthwhile.
Anyway, I was trying to explain the benefits of being plugged-in to the worldwide network of edubloggers, as opposed to restricting communications within the university's VLE.
One the reasons I gave was that I learn just by listening-in to the conversations that are going on amongst people in the edublogosphere. It's not usually written in the academic language that University people seem to like - but it's the closest I'm coming to real-life action research - with people writing about what they've tried and how it went.
I love this quote from CS Lewis, from Vicki's Cool Cat Teacher blog:
"The next best thing to be wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are." CS Lewis
The main objection from people in the group seemed to be the amount of time that it takes to remain plugged-in to the network.
Vicki has summarised in a brilliant way how to create your own circle of the wise. I would encourage anyone starting out to read this post.
For me, my circle of the wise started out with Stephen Downes (who came well recommended from Debra Marsh). From there, the circle of the wise has extended to many people who are my key thinkers in the fields of learning technology, elearning & knowledge management. Almost all have come via recommendations from other people to whom I am already linked.
It's like being able to walk in a crowded conference room amongst many enlightening and thought-provoking conversations, to listen in, and to be encouraged to contribute where I wish. What a privilege!
What I don't understand is why so few people in academia don't appear to take advantage of this? Am I missing something?
In this article, Amber Simmons, a freelance writer and web designer, describes how she writes for a reader, not an audience.
She explains how to earn respect from the reader, and make good use of his/her time.
Well worth reading, for anyone who is writing for the web.
A very useful resource on how to facilitate wikis.
How often do I hear that? Whether it's in invitations to tender, or meetings with clients, the key thing is always the "product" - the learning materials, the book, the website, the discussion forum, etc, etc...
When given the chance, I always try to respond with some questions:
- Who is going to use this "product"?
- Why are they going to use it?
- What is going to motivate them to use it?
- What will a set of web pages offer over and above a document that people could print out to read at their leisure?
- If it's going to be assessed, then who will see the assessment? What will users be able to do (or not do) dependant on the results of the assessment?
- If it's down to the managers to make people use it, then how will the managers a) know about it, and b) be encouraged to promote it?
- How will users find out about the "product"?
There's one word that describes this - marketing. And it's the one, absolutely essential thing that most people leave out when they are designing learning programmes or resources.
Here's a scenario:
Imagine I've been asked to write a book. It's going to have fantastic content, brilliantly laid out, and very engaging! I write it, the publishers approve it and it goes out to all the bookshops in the country. Yet all the metrics (ie. royalties coming in) indicate that take up has been pitiful. I go into a couple of the bookshops to try to find out why. The assistants are very helpful - they find my book on their systems and point me to it, sitting at the back of the shop, along with hundreds of other books on the same subject. I watch, and maybe a couple of students of the subject wander into that section during the day. One of them even takes down the book to have a quick look... But no-one buys.
Let's try the alternative:
I write the same book. It gets approved, but the publisher has also put in place a marketing plan, that looked something like this:
- Launch day - 4 months: The cover of the book and the blurb is designed, based on the initial draft of the book;
- Launch day - 3 months: Bookshop staff are introduced to the new book via the publisher's newsletter;
- Launch day - 2 months: Posters and point of sale marketing collateral materials are commissioned;
- Launch day - 1 month: Key contacts, such as bookshop staff, trusted reviewers and recommenders (eg. managers) are sent preview copies of the book;
- Launch day - 1 week: Marketing collateral arrives in the bookshops, reviewers and authors are invited to talk about the book on the media channels used by potential readers;
- Launch day: The book arrives in the bookshops. The target audience is aware of the book. Their managers are aware of the book - and why their staff should read it.
- Launch day + 1 week: The book has lived up to expectations and is attracting a wider audience.
Of these, only the last point is in the control of the author - the rest has been addressed by the publisher. But how many organisations procuring learning materials put this amount of effort into ensuring they are going to be used? How much money is wasted simply because people are a) not aware of the materials or b) not engaged enough to seek them out?
Elliot Masie wrote about this in a 1999 Special Report from a CBT Conference: "Marketing must be an integral and continuous core component of implementation!"
Yet, we're still in the situation where, usually, by the time the materials suppliers are brought in, it's already too late to put much marketing effort together...
Jay Cross's new wiki about Informal Learning builds on everything he's been working on and talking about over the past two years.
It's mainly there to advertise his book (not yet available in the UK), but provides some real value in the resources he's put in the site.
The document describing a range of people who provide graphic & illustration services for training is very useful, as it shows the range of possibilities.
His superb poster on Informal Learning should, I believe, be on the wall of everyone responsible for procuring, designing & delivering learning opportunities.
Forget the Halloween link - but instead read this insightful article by John Hagel (often to be found collaborating with John Seely-Brown).
Apart from some key thoughts that break down some of business's sacred cows about the need for data prior to decision making, and about the need to focus on the core business, he also fixes his eye again on education:
Education (and let's throw in training while we are at it) is bankrupt - we don't need to fix it; we need to start from scratch and re-think it, starting with the terminology. It represents a huge drain on resources at best and, at worst, takes bright and inquiring minds and slowly but inevitably extinguishes passion for learning... We need to learn ... to develop new institutional learning architectures recognizing that learning is a life-long requirement and that push approaches play an increasingly marginal role in successful
I agree. Pull is very much about the individual taking responsibility for their own learning - which means the individual needs to know what they need to learn. That is a major change of attitude, culture and preconceptions.
So, where do we start?
Philip Butler, Senior Curriculum Adviser for the JISC Regional Support Centre for London has produced a fascinating presentation about implementing VLEs. This was for a recent online conference about VLEs in post-16 education.
The presentations are in Microsoft Producer format, which works really well, but means you'll only be able to view them if you're using Internet Explorer.
The slide that grabbed me and my colleagues was half-way through Part 3.
This paints a perfect picture of what is required when you implement any new system - whether its technology-based or not - and what to expect if you don't do it properly.