Wednesday, 22 December 2010


A few days ago, I delivered the manuscript of my new book, 101 Learning and Development Tools, so it’s perhaps fitting that this is my 101st blog post.

In researching the book, and asking for suggestions for tools, I found widespread misunderstanding of my intentions, and of the scope of the book. A colleague explained this phenomenon to me the other day, with reference to a quote from Henry Ford.

Apparently, when working on the idea of his groundbreaking, accessible motor cars for all, Ford eschewed asking prospective customers what they would want from him, reasoning that they would basically ask for a faster horse. The point being that it is often hard to articulate your needs, and especially to envision new solutions to those needs, when you don’t know what is possible; often we don’t know what we don’t know, and the need for a solution doesn’t become apparent until that solution becomes available, and a new market is formed.

I hope the need for my new book becomes apparent once it’s available – which won’t be until the Autumn of 2011, although it may be available for pre-order on Amazon by the end of summer.

In the meantime, may I take this opportunity to wish all my followers and readers the compliments of the season, and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Friday, 17 December 2010


No, it’s not that it’s that time of year again. Joyful is the translation from the Greek Xerte (pronounced zertay), which is the name of the online course authoring tool my organisation has chosen.

Yesterday a group of us enjoyed basic training in the use of Xerte at our local JISC Regional Support Centre, and came away feeling assured that we’ve made the right choice.

As readers of my blog posts in July will recall, we’ve agonised over the choice of an authoring tool, and it’s taken almost as long to choose one as it did to establish our Moodle platform. We began by defining the criteria we wanted from an authoring tool, and plotted a matrix with these criteria on one axis and the range of possible tools along the other. This process enabled us to eliminate Lectora, Toolbook, eXe and Udutu, among others.

Xerte isn’t perfect – it doesn’t meet all our criteria – but then no other tool did either. However, we are confident of achieving a lot of what we want, and having the scope to develop more, and/or benefit from others developing Xerte further.

Now it’s time to move on and start creating some new content. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Are interns mugs?

What is an intern, or an internship? Is it training? Work experience? A student placement? Volunteering?

I’ve been looking at this recently, and I confess to some confusion. Some internships seem to be paid; some not. But where they’re not, is this just a form of exploitation, substituting a free or cheap intern for a fully-salaried employee? Or is it a legitimate way to gain entry to a new organisation or industry?

Wiktionary takes a narrow view. It offers two definitions, the first of “a student who works in order to gain experience in their chosen field” and the second a more specific definition for medical students. takes a different view: “a person who works as an apprentice or trainee in an occupation or profession to gain practical experience, and sometimes also to satisfy legal or other requirements for being licensed or accepted professionally.” The Oxford English Dictionary goes for “a student or trainee who does a job to gain work experience or for a qualification”.

This question came up, for me, in the context of volunteering. It seems entirely reasonable to me that, just as people give their time freely to public, community or charitable organisations, to make a contribution and/or perhaps to gain useful knowledge or skills, and just as some professionals volunteer their time pro bono, so it may be that those seeking entry to a new career may offer their services free in return for the experience.

This is fine from the volunteer intern’s point of view, but if the organisation uses this as job substitution, perhaps even laying off paid staff to recruit unpaid interns, is this morally acceptable?

My half-formed opinion on this is that we need guidelines. A kind of code on internships. There’s a thorough review of what happens in various countries around the world at Wikipedia. And a provocative discussion forum at interns anonymous.

I’d welcome feedback. Is there a right way and a wrong way to organise and offer internships?