The Future of Learning and its effect on VET

I thought I might take a little bit of a different tack with my post this week and do some crystal ball gazing and look to the future and how technology is going to effect the way in which we learn and then how this might effect the kinds of learning that make up the VET arena.

Late in 2014 I wrote a couple of pieces on rapid skill acquisition and interface learning, a cyberpunk notion of simply jacking any skills or knowledge directly into our brains through some kind of brain/machine interface.  Imagine basically plugging a small usb stick into your skull and downloading all the skills, knowledge and physicality of say, how to service your car, and then when you were finished simply deleting it until you needed to utilise it again.  I suggested that in essence places such as YouTube already provide us with some of this by enabling us to watch how to do some specific thing, in order so that we might be able to replicate that skill ourselves for that specific task, without having to learn all of the skills and knowledge which sit around it.

Since then we have seen the rise of augmented technologies, Virtual reality, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and even robots.  Now while most of these new technologies are only being tinkered with in terms of their learning potential and despite what a number of pundits claim, will not reach their true potential in terms of how people learn and deliver learning for quite a few years yet, they will without doubt irrevocably change what human learning looks like in the future.

Augmented reality allows anyone with a smart phone to point it at an object and receive all of the information and bite sized learning objects they require in order to what ever tasks are associated with the object in question.  A care worker who is unsure of how to operate a new patient lift, simply points their phone at the lift and instantly they receive detailed instructions in how to operate it.

Virtual reality reality and robotics present a future where participants can be trained in fully immersive environments, interacting with the world around them as if it was real.  Add to this an AI controlled population (NPCs in gaming terms) with the ability to react in both expected and random ways to ensure that those undertaking training encounter a full range of circumstances and variations.

Online learning and Mooc’s facilitated, moderated and assessed by AI ‘teachers’ with student support and assistance handled by AI chatbots.  In fact it is more than possible to imagine an entire student experience from their first contact through to their graduation and issuance of certifications without the student at any point having to interact with, in real life (IRL), another person. Enrollments can already be handled by smart website interfaces, the addition of AI chatbots to lead the potential student through the process seems a very small step away.  Access to systems and learning platforms is already automated in most providers at least to some extent, with in a lot of cases significant amounts of communication regarding the course, content and assessments being handled through email.   Shared virtual reality simulations, where students and NPCs interact with both the environment and themselves, facilitated and moderated by an avatar of the AI controlling the entire system, utilising natural language processing based on machine learning to interact with students, conduct, collate and ‘mark’ various assessment pieces both from within the simulation and external to it.

So where do directions like this leave Vocational education, apprenticeships and the other educational activities we utilise currently?  Well if you talk about there always needing to be experts, sme’s and people to provide the system with information, or that there needs to be practical on the job components or that there will always be a need for face to face human interaction you are unfortunately, most likely wrong.  While we won’t see these things happening over night, we will see practical components, which were usually done on the job, moved to complex virtual simulations, why?  Well to give you an example staff working in the community sector, even with at risk clients, may go their entire working careers, let alone their on the job training phase without ever encountering a person at immediate risk of suicide and never know until the moment happens how they will react.  Complex simulations populated by AI characters, provide  a safe environment for staff to encounter situations which are rare in the workplace.  Working on car engines, dealing with electricity, building houses, all will be able to be simulated through virtual reality in such a way as to mimic the actions in the real world.  Simple economics are already moving many providers to more automated enrollment systems and as the levels of complex analysis and response available through ‘bots’ and other systems increases more and more of these processes can and will be successfully automated.

But then if other predictions are true and they probably are a vast array of the jobs that we currently train people for in this sector won’t exist in the very near future.  However there seems as with a range of other industries there may also be niches available to capitalise on gaps left by all of this progress.  Highly skilled teachers and trainers could impart their long held and well developed skills, knowledge and wisdom through ‘Artisan’ face to face models to those who wished that they or their children received their education in a ‘tradition’ environment, all of course for a substantial additional cost. I can see the advertising now.

Anyway that’s just what I think

 

 

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EduTech VET Leaders Congress – A Quick Roundup

So the EduTech VET leaders congress is over for 2015 and as most of you know I was the chair of the congress for the two-days.  So I thought for both those of you who were they are everyone else I might give a quick roundup of some of highlights and some of the more interesting discussions that came out of the congress.  One of the most interesting talks of the two days I think was Simon Breakspear’s talk on Wednesday morning on equipping VET teachers to harness digital technologies.  What particularly resonated with me was that just adding technology to a course or a program does nothing to help learning or completions, there has to be a purpose to the technology and it has to linked to the outcomes of the course.  We should always be asking ourselves how does this technology assist learner outcomes.

Also really interesting were the last two speakers on both days of the congress, who both talked about working with disadvantaged groups  of learners and the challenges associated with particularly building those basic level skills which are often missing for a lot of these clients.  Given that we do a lot of work with that client group, it was good to hear some of the solutions that others had come up with, particularly utilising video conferencing as means of delivering training to groups in different locations, having the facilitator in one location and the learner groups in other locations, so that they still get both the experience of working together as a group and the face to face facilitation model of delivery that is often really needed with these groups.

The other really interesting talk for me was Phil Loveder from NCVER talking about the future trends for the sector approaching 2020, as  lot of people at various streams of the conference said openly, between now and 2020 there is not going to be a lot significant changes it will be just a continuation of the directions we are currently heading.  It was also interesting to hear that the VET courses that currently have the most enrollments, community services, construction, retail, health are the same areas where there is going to be increasing demand as we approach 2020 , which seems to bode well for us to be able to meet the jobs needs in those areas.

The panel discussion on Tuesday where we discussed funding issues in the sector also raised a number of important issues, including on from Rory O’Brien about the difficulty that TAFE in NSW had had in adapting to the new Smart and Skilled program particularly around the reporting requirements required for payments to flow through under the scheme.  There was also quite a good discussion about the need to rethink entitlement lists of priority occupations as a means of funding, unless they were really actually tightly linked to job outcomes and needs and perhaps program style funding, which was designed to address particular needs either within participant groups, or within employment areas seemed in a lot of cases to produce better results, particularly where there were arbitrary limits put on the number of people who could receive training under various entitlement lists.  The point was made that it seems strange that given that something like the Certificate III in Disability and other community services qualifications were clearly an area where there would be significant growth and need for new, trained, employees in South Australia for example the Disability qualification  had only been assigned 200 entitlement places, while other programs were growth was already slowly had substantially more or unlimited places.

One of the things that overall we kept hearing through the two days though was that while there is going to be significant growth in online learning and delivery across the board (Craig Weiss in a recent talk suggested that by 2020 about 90% of all training would be being done online and Craig is right more often than not when it comes to these things), we need to understand why we are doing things online.  There needs to be a purpose to online delivery and it needs to link strongly to the learning outcomes that we want from the course.  Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t improve outcomes.

So if you are in or can get to Melbourne next year make sure you get along to EduTech 2016.

 

Essential Skills – Learning in a digital, interfaced world

I have talked a number of times now about the concept of Interfaced Learning and as part of the discussions about this concept with a number of my greatly appreciated comment providers, one of the prime discussions has been around the concept of essential skills.  One of the reasons why I like thought experiments around the future of learning is that often they tend to give us quite deep insight into the issues facing us today.  So if we consider the world that I have posited on several occasions now, a world where skills and knowledge can for the most part simply plugged in, utilised and then discarded the concept of what basic skills would be essential for me to possess in order not only to be able to utilise technology like this but to utilise it well.  We can also place these ideas more firmly in the now by thinking about the learning through watching YouTube experience I have also mentioned previously, what skills did I need to have to be able to effectively utilise the skills I acquired through the process of interfaced learning.

Now if we take the example of undertaking some home renovation and picking up required skills along the way through watching YouTube.  It is clear that there are some obvious skills which are required in order to be able to do this, things such as;

  • manual dexterity
  • language and comprehension
  • numeracy and mathematics

But what else do we need, what other skills are essential to our ability to rapidly acquire and utilise new skills and knowledge.   What about skills (which are often thought of as being higher level skills) such as critical reasoning, the ability to evaluate options, the ability to extrapolate information (specific to general and general to specific).  We sometimes criticise the outcomes of learning programs without necessarily considering whether or not these higher level skills are present.  To give you an example I am currently working with a group of youths who are disengaged from the general school environment.  While for the most part they have quite good language, literacy and mathematics skills, one of the things I noticed they were missing very early on was the ability to take skills and knowledge from one environment and utilise them in another environment.  It was almost if they had to relearn skills that they actually had, but were unable to transfer to a new problem or task.  This meant that we actually had to spend a fair amount of time early on trying to teach them how to achieve this transference of information but in the long run it made the learning process much easier on them and us.

 

So I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on  what you think the essential skills are that people need in order to be able to effectively learn.

 

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.

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