Online learning doesn’t have to suck!

There was a very interesting article posted by Mashable yesterday reporting on the use of virtual classrooms in higher education. There is no point in me repeating what it says here – I’ll let you read the full report yourself but it does certainly make for interesting reading. To me there are no surprises because I know how effective virtual classrooms can be used.

When you read the article, although it is primarily looking at higher education in the States, please don’t let this cloud your thinking. When it talks about education – think learning in general. After all, set curricula in higher education can be similar to set courses in organisations.

Here are some key points I took from the article.

  1. Garbage in garbage out to quote the American phrase. It’s not the tool that makes for low-quality online learning, it’s the quality of the design and delivery. If you know how to deliver engaging, learner-centred face to face classroom session, you can, with an open mind and enhanced skills, deliver engaging and learner-centred live online classroom sessions. Just because it’s delivered online doesn’t mean you can make less of an effort – in fact you will need to make more.
  2. Blend the delivery for maximum efficiency by making the best use of resources. For example, observed assessments locally were face to face as well as being assessed over video by the tutor.
  3. The ability to reach more people with minimal extra cost and physical resources. Not to mention being able to overcome travel disruptions such as those we experienced in December just gone.
  4. Encourages self-motivation and collaboration on a wider scale.

The future of learning is using the right set of tools for the job. The key to success is how to use the tool effectively.

A look back on my 2010

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A Happy New Year to one and all. For my first post of 2011 I thought I’d look back on my 2010.

2010 was a year of firsts for me:

1. I started Tweeting
2. I started blogging
3. I got my first iPhone
4. I delivered my first presentation to a room full of strangers

It won’t come as any surprise to you all then to hear what my top tools for 2010 were!

One that has to be near the top of the list is Twitter which has proved to be an invaluable professional development tool. It’s been nearly a year since I began my Twitter journey and I will review my first year at another time.

The others, in no particular order are:

WordPress which I use for my blog
Evernote – very useful for collating my research articles and planning my blog posts
Hootsuite – helps me manage my social media posts
Google calendar – to share with friends and colleagues
Feedly and Google Reader to help collate my blog subscriptions
PowerPoint 2007 (not yet got 2010)

The overall number one tool for me in 2010 though has got to be my iPhone (although other smart phones are available) which has helped me use my beloved Twitter at more convenient times. Snatches in between sessions, waiting for a train, sat in the dentist’s waiting room – always connected. Before my iPhone, it was often inconvenient and frustrating to use Twitter. Although I could access it from my normal mobile phone via text, it was cumbersome and using it on my laptop meant I was probably interrupting some other piece of work I should have been concentrating on.

My smart phone gives me easy access not only to Twitter but to my top tools as listed above and:

    • e-mails (all accounts)
    • my contacts and calendars
    • all blogs I subscribe to
    • my Amazon account
    • video snippets on YouTube
    • podcasts
    • my Skype account
    • a collection of online newspapers
  •  
      my Kindle collection

In fact, I will go as far as to say, my iPhone has become my mobile office.

What are my predictions for top tools in 2011? Well, I’m guessing my new Kindle I had for Christmas might be playing a big part in 2011 for me. My iPhone, of course will still be there as the contract doesn’t come to an end until 2012. It is debatable whether I will stay with the iPhone – but smartphones are here to stay.

A year blogging – my 10 takeaways

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Well, it’s been nearly a year since I began blogging which was a new year’s resolution I actually kept. I’m afraid the one about maintaining a healthier lifestyle as usual didn’t last long at all – no surprise there then!

So how have I found blogging during the last 12 months? It’s been mixture. Firstly, I was apprehensive and very quickly got writer’s block in that as soon as I sat down with my laptop in front of me, all the little ideas that came to me in the strangest of places, disappeared and I couldn’t think what to write. I was also anxious. Anxious that people wouldn’t like what I wrote – even worse – people wouldn’t read what I wrote. I became worried. Worried that not only would I struggle to think of something to write but struggle to find the time.

After a little talk with myself (I do that quite a lot) and a little grounding from friends and fellow bloggers, I set myself some ground rules (in no particular order)

1. Aim for one blog a week
2. Not to beat myself up if I couldn’t achieve this
3. Jot down ideas for blogs as they come to me
4. Share my opinions on other people’s posts from my own perspective as I would if discussing them with a friend or colleague
5. Share any hints or tips that have helped me
6. Write as naturally as I speak (within reason!)
7. Be nice even when I disagree
9. Write as if everyone is listening
10. Accept that maybe no-one will

What have I learned from the whole blogging experience?

I’ve learned to keep a record of my ideas in one place. I have two tools to help me with this. I have a notebook I carry around with me where I will write down any little thing that comes to mind and write rough notes or even a first draft. I have also found Evernote invaluable and as I speak (sorry – write), I am drafting this in Evernote now. The beauty of Evernote is that it syncs across platforms which means if I have access to the internet, I can log on and write. It also allows me to collate any research I need for my blog posts.

I’ve learned to speed up my writing process – although I still struggle with this. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead” a quote often attributed to Mark Twain (amongst others) is so me.

Blogging has helped me analyse and consolidate. I’m a magpie with information. I was in danger of just collecting great stories, statistics, presentations and hiding them away in my Evernote library – where they sat. I do that with books too. It’s almost like if I collect enough books I might absorb their riches by osmosis! I would read but not always analyse. Blogging has helped me analyse and make sense of things. It has helped me form my own opinions and reasoning.

More importantly, I’ve learned to believe in myself, in my experience and in my abilities a lot more.

If you haven’t thought about blogging before. Go on – jump in with both feet. I wholeheartedly recommend it. And if you have started blogging recently I would love to hear your tips and experiences.

Behind the mask of cyberspace

Image by Serge WOLFGANG from Pixabay

The need for education not eradication

 I had a conversation today about the dangers of the internet and why a lot of sites are frequently banned from access in some organisations. The concerns raised were about how easy it is for people to take what is written on websites at face value. Because it’s been published on web pages it must be true. It’s all very well encouraging us to access anything we need by a quick search on Google but people can be anyone they want to be in cyberspace, they said. Sites are blocked in case people get the wrong information. Even students in our schools and colleges are copying and pasting what they believe is valid into their course work and believing everything in blind faith.

It is true that anyone can pretend to be anyone with bogus qualifications and exaggerated expertise. But has it increased or just become more visible? Can you believe everything you read in the newspapers? For centuries we have used tools to help us carry out tasks easier and quicker. Fire is dangerous, destructive and indiscriminate in its devastation but we learned to work with it, tame it, harness it and use it for our benefit. With inconsiderate behaviour it will rage out of control again.

Admittedly we have seen many examples of fraudulent acts using the power of the internet. You should see my junk folder – it’s full strangers offering me hundreds of thousands of pounds for just doing them a little monetary favour!. Did they appear all of a sudden because of the internet? No, they just used more traditional methods of delivery before. There were scam letters, chain letters, bogus ‘cowboy’ companies offering deals via flyers posted through your letterbox. The bad guys no longer wear black hats to help you recognise them quickly but there are clues if you look closely. Dastardly people will always be around – and they will always find new ways of continuing their dastardly deeds. Of course not everyone offers misinformation on purpose it just may be inaccurate or biased. This doesn’t mean we should stop using the same tools, banning their use …. just in case! That’s like cutting our noses off to spite our faces. It’s like depriving ourselves of holidays in the sun in case we get burned.

Once upon a time, I worked in an NHS library services. We taught junior doctors about critically appraising written journal articles because even though they appeared in reputable journals, it didn’t mean that the reports were as accurate as they seemed. The introduction of the internet meant we needed to educate users on heightened risks. We taught our medical staff not only to critically appraise official journal articles but also how to use the internet appropriately, provided them with guidelines, a list of reputable sites and the dangers of pure acceptance.

What we need is a little education. We need to help our staff and learners use these tools safely and responsibly – help them learn and work smarter, more effectively and more efficiently. Instead of throwing your arms up in horror and banning these powerful tools, let’s educate and manage staff and watch your productivity grow and their engagement increase.

Training or Learning?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In a recent post I asked the question “what really is blended learning?” after hearing many people describe it as being classroom plus eLearning. Well, before we can establish what blended learning really is, there are a few things I’d like to explore in more detail.

1. the difference between training and learning
2. what is good classroom

When asking various people how they would differentiate between training and learning, here are some of the responses they’ve come back with:

Training = formal, push information, very tutor focused, defined event(s), structured, something that’s done to them, interactive, just in case, series of events, step by step,

Learning = more learner-focused, longer term, continuous, ongoing, pull information, self-motivated, just in time, on-demand, supporting, mixture of formal, semi-formal and informal, sharing, experiential

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 2 years, you would have undoubtedly heard about how we deliver learning programmes needs to move away from formal training events and more towards more of a continuous learning process. This doesn’t mean we will be doing away with the formal training events but more about how we can use them more effectively.

When we talk about formal training events, we tend to think about classroom courses; that is, where two or more people are gathered together for a set period of time to be formally taken through a set topic relevant to their working practices. With even the most effectively designed classroom courses that engage, filled with activities, they can also be very inefficient.

Looking back over the years, great classroom courses have included a rich variety of learning activities or methods. So let’s take a look into the past and remember what we have used for great classroom experiences:

  • lectures
  • tutor-led discussion
  • group discussion
  • demonstrations
  • role plays
  • individual work
  • presentations
  • exercises
  • coaching
  • collaborating
  • case studies
  • problem solving games

A real rich mix of activities there. Hang on a minute? Isn’t that blended learning?

Well, not really. It’s blended training methods.

What it does confirm is that for effective learning our training needs to have an appropriate blend of learning activities. Today the emphasis is increasingly on learning through the conversations we have with each other. Despite classroom delivery being very effective (when designed and facilitated well) it’s often an inefficient choice.

Why? Because there is a limit to how many people we reach at any one time. There are different levels of experience in the room. There’s different speeds at which people learn and more reflection time needed by some. There are hidden costs associated with attending events such as travel and time away from job as well as the possible need to bring in temporary staff to cover.

Organisations have recognised that and are thinking of alternative ways of covering some of the learning traditionally done in the classroom. But is tagging this content on either side of the classroom as eLearning self-study the answer? Maybe – but before we can decide whether it is appropriate I have another question for you.

What really is eLearning?

Novel uses for Twitter – a different kind of book club

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

For those of you out there who still think Twitter is a banal social networking site good enough only to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ or Steven Fry’s latest gastronomic delights, I have some news for you.

I recently came across a book club run entirely online with discussions taking place on Twitter. The book club is LrnBk Chat, a brainchild of the social media guru Jane Bozarth. The book club runs like this:

A new discussion topic is announced on the dedicated blog (LrnBk Chat) giving details of the book to be read. An agreed number of chapters was agreed at 2 being manageable and series of dates are listed for each. On the morning of each discussion period, a series of questions are published on the blog to consider when reading the set chapters. The conversation starts and so it continues.

So people can follow the conversation, a dedicated hashtag is used – in this case #lrnbkpull for the latest topic being discussed.

Although the conversation is designed to be carried out on Twitter, Jane decides to use Hootcourse (“an online classroom …instead of cumbersome forums or complicated lesson-plan formats, HootCourse uses a combination of the most popular social networks and blogging platforms to provide a new type of online classroom”). Hootcourse allows bookworms to sign in using their Twitter or Facebook account.  Hootcourse can post comments publicly to Twitter or kept private but I’ll go into this another time.

‘It’s a book club, Jim, but not as we know it!’

It just goes to show that with a little creative thinking and shaking off of those blinkers which are narrowing our views and create some really engaging alternative activities to be run online.

So what if you can’t use Twitter or Facebook? What if your organisation blocks these sites. Well, let’s see what you have already that can be used just as effectively. Take a look at the online tools you currently have in your organisation for communication. They may not be used for learning at the moment but we can always high-jack them. We did it with PowerPoint after all.

You may well have a VLE/LMS (virtual learning environment/learning management system) such as Moodle to run your online courses. These provide communication tools in one place including forums and blogs as well as a live chat facility that could be used along the same lines as Twitter. So, for instance, you could create your own book club (or work on a case study in stages) and arrange a time to meet for the live chat or just continue using an asynchronous discussion if this is more appropriate.

What creative ideas can you think of?