At 12:49 on Wednesday 6 July 2005, I was travelling in Staffordshire to a training venue listening for the imminent announcement of who was going to ‘win’ the Olympic Games for 2012. Now, I’m not a big sports fanatic but I couldn’t help but join in very excitedly with a big ‘WHOOP WHOOP!’ as Jacque Rogge made the announcement ….. LONDON!
Seven years later and it’s nearly here and Olympic fever has begun. But along with the kudos comes chaos. Now we’re hearing about all the disruption the Games are going to create. It’s already started with Olympic organisers creating an Olympic route network meaning roadworks.
With the disruption to day to day business with journeys to work affected, higher than usual annual leave requests, pressures on transport systems and road networks, the advice given in the ‘preparing your business for the games‘ LOC publication to businesses is:
Millions of additional trips are expected on public transport and the road network in London and the UK … This could potentially disrupt your employees’ journeys, business travel, deliveries/collections, and the operations of suppliers, other contractors and freight. To keep your businesses running, you should aim to reduce the need to travel and make essential journeys at less busy times or by using different modes or routes.
Over the past few months several delegates on my courses have talked about their organisations being encouraged to allow staff to work from home where they’re not needed to be in the office/building.
Of course, this doesn’t just mean problems for day to day working but also day to day training/learning. Fortunately, if key people in these organisations are on the ball, they will see there is a way around some of this disruption. Where live conversations are needed to take place, whether it’s to discuss on ongoing project or as part of a planned training course, we have the technology. We’ve been communicating via e-mail for years.
The concept of collaborating remotely is not new but we’ve yet to embrace the live online environment. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown. Perhaps it’s bad experiences of them in the past. But now – and I mean now and not in a few months time as an afterthought – is the time to make the most of the technology at our fingertips and start working (and learning) smarter. If we start investigating as soon as possible how best to engage our live online participants (audience is too passive a word), we’ll be on the winning team by a long shot.
The other Monday evening, I was flicking through the channels of the hotel tiny TV looking for something easy and not too brain taxing to watch, when I landed on a programme all about the secret life of buildings and how they way they are designed can have a fundamental and often quite scary effect on our behaviour, health and well-being. I thought it would do until the second episode of Corrie came on (I told you I needed something inane and not too taxing to relax didn’t I?).
Here’s what the Chanel 4’s introduction for the programme says on its website ” Architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff explores the impact the design of buildings can have on us – on our identity and self-esteem, and on relationships, our chances at school, and even our weight and immune system”
Well, I was only watching a couple of minutes when I was hooked. This programme was fascinating. So much so I started writing notes (so much for relaxing then!). This was the second of three in the series. Unfortunately I’d missed the first one which was the designs of our homes. I’m going to catch that one on On-Demand.
Architecture’s influence on our behaviour
This episode concentrated on how architecture can change the way we feel and behave. It looked at how it can even change our brains. Wow – really?
Tom Dyckhoff visited several different buildings throughout the programme. Some of these have achieved iconic status such as The Gerkin designed Norman Foster. The Gerkin, which got it’s name from the its shape which looked like a giant gerkin, is a magnificent building but when you entered inside it became bland, soulless, uninspiring. The only thing going for it was the view. This was very different to Foster’s other iconic building in Ipswich.
The Willis building was iconic back in 1975 because it was one of the first truely open plan office buildings in the UK. It was column-free with reflective surfaces to reflect light back into the office space and a large rooftop restaurant which catered for all staff bringing levels together. There was even a swimming pool (later covered over to provide more offices). This structure was unique also in that it said there was more to people than work. It was very popular with the workforce.
We had a fascinating insight into how architecture can have a detrimental effect on us when Dyckhoff then took us to Deloitte’s offices in London. Apparently, when the staff moved into their current building, morale took a nose dive. Team work and productivity fell dramatically. Guy Battle, partner in Deloitte even said his “heart fell” when he walked into the building. From the organisation’s point of view, the space was very efficient but it just didn’t inspire people. It was, again, soulless. When asked what she would have like to change, one member of staff said “additional facilities for staff” and somewhere where all the other tenants could “congregate and mingle”.
It seems that because these structures were built to house many different tenants they needed to have a broader appeal and therefore a less interesting look and feel. Rab Bennett, architect of the Deloitte building acknowledged the direction office spaces need to go in should be better and “if architects were more like craftsmen again, making things properly with good responsible work” people would still buy that although still maintained that buildings would still have to have a broad appeal. Norman Foster also agreed that perhaps the internal space could be better and had even tried to influence his clients. “at some point” he said “you have to let go”.
So how did the programme prove that the way our environments are designed can affect our brain development? Enter Fred Gage, Neuroscientist at San Diego’s Salk Institute. Gage had carried out experiments on mice (apparently mice have a similar brain structure to humans). It seems that, contrary to the belief that we are all born with all the brain cells we need, we can actually grow new brain cells. Our brains cells can grow and mature by as much as 15% in a month. It appears that external environments do have a significant influence on our brain development.
As long as we are continually developing and we are moving within different spaces especially when those spaces are of different qualities and stimuli, our brains will constantly change and shift. Gage stated that “architects are impacting the structure of our brains by the spaces they are making but they’re not taking into consideration how”. He advised that both neuroscientists and architects need to work together because “we should be highly motivated to optimise our understanding so we can optimise our own performance and abilities”.
What has this got to do with learning?
Remember at the beginning of this post I said I’d settled down to relax and watch some mind numbing TV. This was so I could help my brain switch off. No such luck. With this fascinating programme, my brain kicked into to gear and revved right up. Well that’s all very interesting, you might say, but what has this got to do with learning, blended learning and eLearning? I say it has everything to do with it.
What I saw was all these wonderfully shiny new buildings, cleverly constructed and award winning in design. They were rich in texture, unusual in shape, flashy and looked very expensive. All the time and energy seemed to had been spent on how good they looked. How impressive they were on the outside. Applauded how clever and innovative the artist/designer/architect was who came up with these plans.
They are, indeed, things of wonder and (not always) beauty. But the one big flaw is that they were built for efficiency. They weren’t built with the people in mind. There was little thought in how people behave. There was no thought in how people feel. We’re people, not machines. We need social interaction, we need stimulation, we need challenge, we need emotional connections, we need to feel comfortable not constrained.
Have we fallen into the same trap when designing our digital learning solutions? Have we spent our energies on designing shiny new online/virtual learning environments full of ‘bling’. On the outside they look like they will deliver. They look expensive. They look clever and flash. They mesmerise and astound us with programming panache. Do they tantalise and entice us with wondrous award winning exteriors yet lifeless and cold on the inside with uninspiring information laden drudgery? Of course the look is important but once you’re through that fancy door, are they devoid of challenge, social interaction and emotional connection? Can you choose your own path or are you constrained and shackled at every step? Are they designed with people in mind? As architects for our learning environments, do we really consider our audience and their needs?
Do we really understand the serious impact we can have when we build learning environments? Fred Gage, the neuroscientist mentioned above, advised that architects and neuroscientists should work together. Very true. I say the architects of our learning environments should heed the same advice.
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:
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.