Interfaced Learning – The acquisition and disacquisition of skills and knowledge in the digital world

As some of you may have guessed from my recent posts the #lrn2024 concept has stuck a cord with the philosopher and futurist in me (for those of you who don’t know I am shall we say a Philosopher by trade) and got me thinking about a number of things.  In particular in the changes the way we learn (and I am becoming a little more careful about using this term now) and acquire skills and knowledge.  This is in part driven by the concept that it seems that there may be or may be developing what could a significant difference between what we would traditionally consider to be learning and shall we say the acquisition of a skill or piece of knowledge.  I would argue, and I may at some point, that more so than ever in the past (and I believe this will increase in the coming years) it is becoming possible for me to acquire a skill, in most cases quite rapidly, utilise that skill and then for want of a better word disaquire that skill just as rapidly.

An example of this is my recent renovations of our house, including things like sanding and polishing floors, tiling and cutting and installing trim for the ceiling.  If we take a look at cutting the ceiling trim it provides a great example.  We had done everything else in the bathroom and the last thing to do was the trim between the ceiling and wall, so I went, ‘how hard can it be’ and went and looked at the trim in the rest of the house and the old trim that had been removed and then made an attempt (with a couple of test pieces to make the appropriate cuts.  I failed.  Given this result it was off to the wonderful world of YouTube, where I learnt about mitre boxes and the like, then armed with the knowledge and a rapidly purchased mitre box, proceeded to with relative ease cut and install the trim.  With that task achieved and the likelihood of me needing to do it again in the near future, and the availability of YouTube, promptly disacquired that skill.  Now why do I say disacquire that skill rather than forget, well I haven’t totally forgotten it, could I do it again now without the help of YouTube, probably not, but my reacquisition time would be much less time.  This is also the reason I used the term acquire the skill rather than learn, because I would argue that at no point did I learn the skill cut trim using a mitre box.

Now lets juxtapose this against the more traditional way of learning, or acquiring skills, where one is shown or taught a skill by someone who already possesses that skill and then practices that skill, usually under the guidance again of someone who already possesses that skill, until they are recognised as being able to perform the skill independently.  It is important to note that I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with this traditional method,  that its time has passed, or that it doesn’t and will not have a place in the learning environment.  I am suggesting however that this Interfaced Learning (where I acquire skills and knowledge rapidly through some kind of interface device and in most cases disaquire them almost as quickly) is not only upon us, but is something that will increase in usage and application and new technologies and out understanding of the brain and how we learn increases.

It is clear I think that if we look at the rise and usage of not only e-learning and mobile learning, but instructional videos on youtube and a range a n variety of apps from which we can pull information and knowledge when we require it that this concept of Interfaced Learning is already upon us.  Be it a desktop computer, a tablet, a mobile phone, or (and I would love to explore this idea more, and yes this is a shameless plug this lovely piece of tech should be available in Australia) things like Google Glass, we are already surrounded by these interfaces and we use them constantly to access information and to acquire skills and knowledge, which we then utilise and promptly disacquire because we no longer need to that skill, knowledge or piece of information.

In fact it seems to me that there are some fairly mundane examples of this where we have been utilising this process for quite a long period of time, even before the rise of e-learning.  Think of the shared drive or the web portal which holds policies and procedures for an organisation.  Organisations have actively discouraged the printing of documents from these location and actively encouraged staff to check the central repository to ensure the latest knowledge.  Effectively the organisation is saying, don’t learn this, simply access it when you need it and apply it, thus ensuring (hopefully) that everyone is always working with the latest and most correct information.  They are actively promoting the rapid acquisition and disacquisition of knowledge through a readily available interface.

The more I think about this subject the more it seems that moving forward this concept of only holding skills and knowledge is one that is increasing.  We talk a lot about just in time learning, rapid upskilling, knowledge sharing and the like, and most of these concepts are wrapped around the delivery of content through some interface device and in a lot of cases we are not expecting the person to have completely learnt and integrated the skill or knowledge, at least in the traditional sense, after they have access the information once, but we seem to expect them to behave, at least for a short period of time as if they do possess that skill of knowledge.  There also seems every reason to suspect that this interfaced learning process will increase and we will see more and more skills and knowledge delivered to us in this way.

So I would really love to hear any thoughts you might have on this.


Learning in a digital ‘cyberpunk’ world #LRN2024

A lot of you have probably come across the concept of a brain/computer (wetware/hardware) interface which allows people learn new skills, obtain knowledge and interface directly with other systems through science fiction movies and novels (William Gibson’s work for example)  and recently there was a paper published which seems to show the first documented brain to brain interface.  After my recent post for #lrn2024 and  question from a friend of mine Eric, I started to think about the effects on this kind of process on learning and the acquisition on knowledge and skills.

Let me set the scene for you first and then we can begin to discuss what impacts these ideas may have.

Think about a world where the need to learn skills and obtain knowledge in a traditional manner is no longer necessary, rather when one needs a particular set of skills or knowledge one simply ‘installs’ in much like installing a new piece of software on a computer or perhaps more like running portable apps on a computer rather than installing anything, but both ideas tend to work in the same way though as we may see there may be more permanence in case than the other.  We might call this kind of learning, if we decide that it is in fact learning and not something else, Interface Learning, that is where skills or knowledge are acquired through the utilisation of some for of interface. So if we take something simple (though in true actually quite complex) like driving a car.  I have learnt to drive an automatic vehicle, however in a particular instance I need to drive a manual  vehicle, so I simply ‘chip’ the skills and knowledge into by brain through some kind of wetware/hardware interface (think a USB port just behind my ear) and I am able to drive the manual vehicle with the skill and precision of a formula one racing driver.  So what then happens when I no longer need to driver the vehicle?  Well there would seem to be two options;

  1. I could simply remove the ‘chip’ removing the skills and knowledge from my brain much like disconnecting a usb drive running portable apps, or
  2. The skills are installed in brain by the process and thus left there, much like installing software on to a computer

both of these options would, it seems, have advantages, so lets look quickly at the two options and then we can look at what I think the real problem that exists behind this sort of technology might be.  The advantages to the first option are simple and really the same as the disadvantages, I never actually need to know very much at all, I just need to have a sufficiently large cache of ‘chips’ to provide me with the skills and knowledge that I need for particular circumstances, perhaps even being able to ‘chip’ multiple sets of skills and knowledge at once to accomplish complex tasks or tasks requiring a wide range of skills and knowledge.  The advantage would be that I could spend my time occupying my brain with whatever I chose to do with it and not need to spend multiple years learning skills and obtaining knowledge.  Of course the disadvantage is that if there is a problem with ‘chip’ then there is a severe problem with my ability to do the things that I would need to do.   So maybe this is really an augmenting technology where skills that I don’t require often, or high specialised or complex are those that I would ‘chip’ in while more basic skills were learnt in a more traditional manner.

So lets look at the second option, where I install the skills and knowledge as I need them but they remain there like programs on a computer hard drive.  There seems to be less problems with this sort of option as, as with software I would simple need to ‘click’ on it and the skills would be available to be again, or once installed they would ‘run in the background’ much as skills and knowledge tend to do now.  Think about however, what happens with computers, and we could well say already happens with our brains currently, hard drives get full and we have to delete things (we forget or lose access to our memories), software and hardware are no longer compatible, files and systems get corrupted and no long work in way they originally did, if at all, and all of the programs running in the background fill up our available ram and all of our processes slow down or blue screen.

There is however to my mind another issue with all of these ideas and that is what happens to our skills and knowledge over time and where do new skills and knowledge come from.  If I no longer have to practice a skill or utilise my knowledge then it is liable I think to stagnate.  Take again the example of driving a car I have been driving a car for nearly 30 years, and my driving has changed substantially over that time, I am a far more competent driver now in a wider range of vehicles than I was when I was 18, and I have learnt things about driving in particular areas or circumstances which are particular to that area or circumstance.  If however, all I had ever done when I needed to drive a car was to chip the skills and knowledge, drive the car and then turn the knowledge off when I was finished, my knowledge of driving a car may be the same for the most part every time I drove, year after year, particularly if I only drive on limited occasions.  I am also faced with the issue of skills upgrades what if I want to drive better, drive a truck as well as a car, or a wide range of cars, with changing configurations, will the chip that I have be able to cope with all of these permutations, or will I need and upgrade as the years pass by to cope with the changing world.  There in also lies the other issue, if this ‘chipped’ learning becomes the predominant means of obtaining the skills to achieve tasks, then where will these skill upgrade come from, will there be artisans who specialise in developing skill sets in more traditional ways, so that this skill and knowledge can be copied and transferred to others.

I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this as it has started some deeper thinking for me on this idea of interface learning and skill acquisition.


What will learning look like in 2024? (#LRN2024)

So after today’s #lrnchat I thought I would have a go at the challenge set by The eLearning Guild to think about how learning might look in 2024 and to be honest it has challenged me a little bit.  So much as changed in the last 10 years how could we possibly envision what learning might be like in another 10 years and then it hit me

Learning won’t change


How we deliver it, package it and how it is accessed evaluated and utilised will, but it will still be about people needing to have knowledge in order to exist in our world, whatever that world looks like.  Now some of you could I guess fairly complain here that I have cheated a little bit here, but when I look at the changes over the last 10 years they have for the most part centred around how we deliver, consume and evaluate the outcomes of learning.  E-Learning, Mlearning, 70:20:10 and MOOC’s are all examples of this phenomena.  How we think about learning has changed but the act of learning and why we learning hasn’t changed.  

Of course sometime in the next 10 years we could invent brain to brain knowledge transfer, or hardware/wetware interfaces where we can simply ‘chip’ the knowledge we need for a particular activity.  If that is the case though (and it may well will be) then we will have fundamentally altered not just the delivery and consumption of Learning, but learning itself and if we think about it, fundamentally altered what it means to be human.

VET Reform–Training Packages; The industry-training connection

As I think everyone is probably aware by now Minister MacFarlane announced the demise of the Industry Skills Councils when their contracts around the development and maintenance of Training packages ends.

As  lot of you know I have for a long time been fairy critical of at least some of the ISC’s and their work with the various training packages.  I think the the Minister is right when he says that business and industry feel as though they are left out of the development process and aren’t getting what the need or expect out of graduates of the these programs.

Now if we put aside arguments about quality of training and the like, it seems clear that there are a lot of training packages and qualifications out there that miss the mark in terms of providing employers with graduates with the skills sets that they require.  The level of flexibility to be able to provide a training program which meets the need of both and employer and the packaging rules can sometimes be difficult and graduates can sometimes be missing critical skills needed for more specialised areas of the industry.

As I I have said previously (and I am happy that the Minister seems to be thinking in the same direction) the skill sets and knowledge requirements for job roles must come from within the relevant industry, it can’t and shouldn’t be driven by training providers.  If industry provides the basis, that is the skills and knowledge that various job roles require, then it is the role of the training industry to take that information and to translate it into trainable outcomes, outcomes the ensure that graduates of the programs should everything else being equal, meet the needs and criteria of employers.   The fact that it does actually meet those needs and more than that, that it is understandable by employers needs to be firmly ascertained.  Too often employers have not been kept in the loop or simply don’t understand why training has been constructed in the way in which it as, and that is not their fault, it is ours, if industry doesn’t understand how training works, what the outcomes are and why things are how they are then that is clearly the fault of the training industry.

So for the most part I think the Minister is right, at least in theory, how it plays out in practice will of course need to be seen, there needs to be a much stronger link between industry and training, but with each party providing input into their areas of expertise.  And let’s not forget as I often say, this is Vocational Education and Training we are talking about so if the programs aren’t providing real vocational outcomes for graduates, then why are they even programs and why are they are being to delivered to students.

Small Wins – Why Disability awareness training is so important

This post is a little bit different to my usual posts but not to far from my usual topics.

I saw this video yesterday and really felt the need to share this everyone.  It shows that even small things can have a big impact on people’s lives.


Now I don’t know what kinds of training Starbucks gives to its staff or whether or not this was just a really capable staff member doing the best she could for a customer, but whatever the case the outcome for the customer is awesome.

It is this kind of interaction and making people aware of how to interact with people with disabilities and that even small wins are incredibly important that really drives home to me why disability awareness programs are so important and why more companies should be providing their staff with these sorts of programs and encouraging them to do the sorts of things we see in this video.

Marketing, Marketing Marketing – Selling training ethically

The VET industry in Australia at the moment seems to be beset by unscrupulous marketing programs, designed it seems to do nothing more than rip of the most vulnerable people in society, by promising them degrees and qualifications that will get them jobs and which they don’t have to pay for, oh and dont you worry we will through in a free computer with that course as well.

So what is going on here, why are we seeing such a rise in this, what can we do about it and what alternatives do RTO’s have in terms of marketing.

The first two things that spring to my mind when I start to think about why we have seen such a blatant increase in this clearly unethical behaviour are;

  1. The influx of large commercial providers (often part of even larger overseas backed companies) into the market, who in order to survive, profit and pay for their sparkling offices and campuses need a substantial constant income stream (hence we end up with people being charged $18,000 for a Diploma of Counselling)
  2. The rise of lead generation websites and companies who sole purpose is to funnel students into high cost, VET-FEE Help programs to both generation profits for themselves and to provide fodder for number 1.

This should not be taken to suggest that all providers fall into this category and that all marketing is evil and unethical, but it does raise substantial issues in terms of quality of training, the ability of these students to go on to participate in the workforce, the quality of workers available to industry and of course the elephant in the room (which is always hidden behind the words, Study now – Pay later) the amount of debt some of these students are accumulating, which will have a whole range of effects on their future choices, but that’s ok we gave them a free computer.

To give you a real example of what is happening out there, I was recently talking to a relatively person who was looking for work, she had left the job she had had since finishing high school, because she wanted a change and wanted to have more options than she currently did.  She saw one of the website advertising study now-later and sent them an email asking for all of the details about the course she wanted to do ( dual diploma counselling and something else).  After the fourth phone call from the lead generation company attempting to get her to sign up to the program she finally ‘decided ‘ it was the right thing to do even though she wasn’t entirely sure of all the costs and details.

So she started the program, mostly online, there were a couple of face to face sessions where there seemed to be students from a range of different courses there and found that there was very little assistance available, it took weeks to get her assessments marked and there was little in the way of feedback when she did get them back.  There was no help finding placements, or any assistance in that way at all, but after about 13 months she finished the program and was really please and happy (even though it took nearly 3 months for her to get her certificate) and ready to move into a new career.  She found however that no one was interested in hiring her, because despite what she had been told there were not a lot of roles available and almost none for people without any real experience.  So she took a casual role in a related field, not one that she was particularly interested in, and for less money than she had been getting in her previous role.  The really interesting thing was that once she had got her certificate the marketing company contacted her several times again to see how she was going and when she said she was having trouble finding work, they suggested that what she needed was to do another diploma, this time in management to give her those extra skills that she probably needed to get the roles that she really wanted and oh she ‘study now-pay later’ again as well.  If she had chosen that path the total cost of her study when she had finished would have been between $30-35,000 and she probably would not have been in a terribly better place than if she had done a Certificate III or IV and started from the ground up in organisation, she certainly wouldn’t be in as much debt as is now.

Now I know some of you will say that is her own fault, she should have done her research and looked at the market, the costs of the course and all range of other things.  Which is of course what we would do, but we know that system, we know and can understand the fine print and the details, these marketing groups and the RTO’s providing the courses are specifically targeting people who either don’t know how to do that or for whom the information is meaningless because they can’t understand it and the lovely person on the phone has convinced them that it is the right thing to do and not to worry because they may never have to actually pay it back anyway.

What can we do about it though, firstly we can report to the various regulator (and not just the VET sector regulators) that this is going on, send them links to the websites, expose these things were we find them, and I know there is a lot of this going on already, where people are speaking up and saying something, but there needs to be more voices, the more complaints that flow in the better chance there is of getting something done.

What else can we do and what alternatives do we have, well in the words of Google,

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