Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The digital classroom

Earlier this year, I was very impressed by how one of my client’s classrooms was equipped with some of the latest gadgetry.

I’m still getting to grips with what are generic terms for commodities, and what are brand names – in the world of new technology, the two are often confused, such as when people say “google” instead of “search”, or when we talk of PowerPoint as though it was the only presentational software available.

But the piece of kit that particularly impressed me was the Smartboard. Electronic whiteboards have been around for years, and I frequently used one in the company I was with in the early ‘90s. But this is a step beyond. The Smartboard combines a screen for displaying presentations, or digital video clips, or documents the tutor wants to share with the group (Word docs, spreadsheets, etc), with a “whiteboard” using special pens and yielding content that can then be saved or printed as needed. And it’s touch-sensitive.

When you combine this with a network of terminals in the classroom, you have all the digital technology you need to lift even the dullest subject to a new level, to make the classroom experience exhilarating – even for digital natives.

And no, the guys at Smartboard (insert TM or C symbol or whatever) aren’t paying me to say this!

Friday, 12 October 2007

Training digital natives

My granddaughter, at three years old, was more accomplished in her use of a mouse than several older family members – “click and drag, Granny”, she’d instruct her more technologically-challenged forebear. And not long ago, I was introduced to a group of nursery children, who were working on a project where they were in email correspondence with members of the Scottish Government. Many of us have similar stories – the fact is, if you have been brought up surrounded by digital technology, there’s nothing ‘new’ about it. And the use of it is as intuitive as, say, the telephone for us auld yins.

New entrants to the workplace today use digital technology in all aspects of their lives – for personal development, for communicating with friends and acquaintances, for games and leisure pursuits. They have been using computers since they were tots, they have sophisticated mobile phones with all sorts of add-on features, they participate in online communities, and they have their own Web space. They expect computers to support their work activities, and they have similar expectations about vocational learning.

When we design learning interventions, we need to take account of these people. They are not a minority who can be ignored: increasingly, they represent the norm in many organisations, and will be even more so in the future. It is not enough to offer traditional training events – we need to offer more.

Does this contradict my last post? No, the mix I’ll be implementing with that client will be mainly off-the-job, classroom-based, to accompany planned and recorded on-the-job training, with a ‘bridge’ comprising complementary learning resources made available online. This won’t be enough to satisfy the digital natives, but it’s a start.

(I assume the term ‘digital natives’ is now common currency, meaning those who have always inhabited a land of digital technology, as opposed to we ‘digital immigrants’ who have found our way to this land – there’s an interesting link here:

Monday, 8 October 2007

When e-learning is not appropriate

I firmly believe that e-learning can offer something to suit every learning style preference – the notion that it is only useful for factual, information-based learning is based on a limited understanding of the scope of e-learning (see my previous posts on different e-learning models). However, there’s no denying that passionate advocates of a new approach – in any field – can get a bit carried away. When dealing with specific situations, there are bound to be many where e-learning is not the best option.

A work-based approach is often best. And classroom-based learning, face-to-face, may not be very fashionable, but it can still be one of the most powerful approaches to learning. For example, when you need to get people out of the workplace, away from the day-to-day pressures, but also need to get them involved in a collective discussion.

I’ve recently been working with a client where learning has taken place predominantly on-the-job, and they are anxious to develop a culture of off-the-job training. E-learning should have its place in the mix, but the imperative is to have some highly-visible training activity, and that means classroom-based. Am I missing an opportunity to by-pass the traditional approach and advocate going straight to online? I don’t think so. Advocates of e-learning from ten years ago would have been keen to replace the classroom with the digital alternative, but I think most of us now see the benefits of deploying a range of approaches, including the tatty old classroom.

In the situation I’m handling, the client expects to have lots of face-to-face training. Why divert them from that, when the company will glean enormous cultural benefits? E-learning can wait until the time is right.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Self-managed learning

The debate about different models of e-learning continues. I have often heard it argued that print-based self-study materials don’t translate well to an online format because statements of aims and objectives don’t work. I am sympathetic to this view – it’s not that you don’t need to be clear about aims and objectives, but constantly re-stating them, as open learning workbooks often do, tends to come across as repetitive and too didactic in an online medium.

I spoke to an experienced training manager last week who said “we need to treat learners like adults”. Without referencing any typology of models, he was arguing in favour of what I call the third model (see my blog post of Monday 30 July), in which learning resources are offered to be used as the learner sees fit, for self-managed learning. There seems to be increasing support for this model, and I can see further useful applications of it for CPD and for performance support, neither of which are loose or informal learning approaches.

I recently discovered Wikiversity for the first time. See This is a third model project, which describes how members of its community originally intended to develop e-learning courses, but were re-directed by their trustees to take a different approach. The learning cycle diagram, above, comes from Wikiversity. This is an exciting development, with implications for everyone involved in e-learning.

I’d be interested to hear of other ‘third model’ applications.

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