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.

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VET vs University – A continuing Divide.

As some of you who have been reading my blog for a while will be aware I have always been troubled by the seeming divide which exists between VET and University education in this country.  This came up again recently when the very articulate Lauren Hollows  asked this wonderful question on Linkedin; “Why does it have to be VET or HE?”.  Quite early on in the life of this particular iteration of this blog, I presented a similar thought.  Lauren’s post and the ensuing discussion prompted me to think a little more about this problem and why it is that there seems to be a divide between Vocational Training and University Education.

Lets jump in the time machine and go back to the dim past when I was in the final years of high school and looking at what I was going to do with myself post secondary school.  The choices were pretty clear-cut back then, you left at year 10 and got a trade, you went on to year 12 and University or you just went and got a job. somewhere and to a large extent what we know now as the VET sector now was still a few years away.  This I think is still some of the problem today, a lot of people not involved in the industry, who are now parents etc saw this divide, you went to  TAFE to do a trade or you went to university and of course the unspoken thought was that the reason you left at year 10 and went and got a trade was that you weren’t going to get good enough results in 11 and 12 to get accepted into University.  Now whether or not that was ever true, the mindset was there and still is, people still view VET as a choice you make when you can’t get into university.

Let’s fast forward to today though, this is not the case anymore and hasn’t been the case for some time now, sure VET education can be seen as an alternative education pathway, but it is also a supplementary or complimentary pathway.  As a lot of the respondents to Lauren’s post said, myself included, a lot of people now have qualifications from both sectors, all of which provide them with different learnings and different skills and knowledge.  So why then do we still hear comments like “I have a degree why would I was my time getting a Certificate IV/diploma?”  We hear them because I think we have failed, all of us, the Government, the peak bodies, the providers to truly explain the post secondary education system in this country to people, and to explain it to people in such a way that makes sense to them and shows them the value of education regardless of what ‘sector’ that education comes from.

We have a single framework in this country for qualifications and we have had it since 1995.  The Australian Qualifications Framework outlines who the whole system works and what each level from Level 1 (Certificate I) to Level 10 (Doctoral Degrees) work and what the skills and knowledge at each level is.  I would hazard a guess however that very very few parents and student and probably not a lot of teachers and guidance officers were terribly aware of the content of the AQF and even fewer would understand how the system works and what all of it means and there in lies the problem.

What we need to do in this country is to embark on an education process, a process designed to explain to people simply and easily how the system works.  If we ever as a country truly want to have an engaged workforce built on ideals of lifelong learning, then we need to do this we need to this, we need to explain to people the choices that they have and how they fit together.  If we don’t there will always be a divide between the various educational sectors in this country and that would be a crying shame.

Technology – Helping or hindering learning?

Mobile Learning is the next big thing!

We need to gamify that content to engage the learners!

Stunning bite sized e-learning will promote just in time learning on the job!

 

Sometimes these days when I listen to all of the chatter at conferences, online and at meeting and events etc  about the world of Learning and Development I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t perhaps just sounding a little bit like the new song by Weird Al

 

Weird Al Yankovic – Mission Statement

 

and I have to admit it worries me.  It sometimes feels to me like the direction of our thinking is being push or nudged in certain directions by the needs and wants of vendors, both of content and systems, rather than being driven by the needs and wants of learners.  This should not be taken to be a criticism of vendors in general (what is it they say ‘some of my best friends are vendors’) , it is their job to promote their products and services as much as they can and to be fair L&D folk seem to love new technology, new ways of connecting and new things to explore, I know I do.  However isn’t in the long run the outcome for the learner and in a lot of cases the organisations they work in what is important.  I see lots of stuff about how new technologies help learners in Higher education, school etc and this seems to be used as evidence that the same things will work in organisations or in other types of learning environments and as I have said before I am not quite so sure that is the case.

I am happy to accept that there are instances of organisations fully implementing these new technologies and having fantastic results, there seems to be a number of ‘case studies’ and ‘anecdotal evidence’ to suggest that it can be successful.  However there also seems to be quite a range of stories out there about it not working for one reason or another, usually because user engagement was an issue, or to paraphrase that statement – staff didn’t want to do organisationally required learning in their own time,  they wanted to do the training in a face to face environment, or they wanted something really hands on, not simulated.

I guess what I am saying here is that flipped learning might be great in K-12, MOOC’s might work for universities, gamification might engage GenY learners, but do these things actually work or work as well in organisational settings, or are the expectations, needs, wants and outcomes of the people we train and the organisations work with, not a great match for some of these things despite what the ‘research’ might say.  After all how unbiased is an article or paper on the virtues of gamificiation if it is written or sponsored by a gamification vendor.

Sure it is great to explore all of the new and wonderful ways in which we can engage learners and provide truly outstanding outcomes for our clients, but in the long run shouldn’t how we deliver learning be based (at least in part) on who the learners want to learn.

 

 

 

On workforce participation and cycling to work

Now I freely admit that the title of this post might seen a bit strange at first, but bear with me as I am definitely  going somewhere with this

As a lot of my readers know I recently changed jobs and as part of this process was ‘unemployed’ for a short period of time.  One of the things about my new role is that it is substantially closer to home than my previous one was (under half the distance).  What this has allowed me to do is to begin to integrate some exercise back into my work day by riding to and from work.  Now I have driven the route that I take from home to work more times than I can count (some friends of ours live very near where I now work) and not once in all those drives did I ever take any notice of the fact that there are a number of long inclines along the way.  In the car I simply just didn’t notice them.  However the first time I rode to work I definitely did notice them.

So what does this all have to do with workforce participation and unemployment.  Well as I was riding along this morning I realised that my recent and fairly short lived, ‘between jobs’ time was in comparison to the experience of unemployment that a lot of people, particularly young people have, very much like the difference between driving a car and riding a bicycle to work.

My experience was very much like that of driving a good quality car, I had a strong engine (my qualifications, skills, experience), I was protected from the elements and comfortable (I own a house and have money in the bank and I got a pay out from my previous employment) and had plenty of room in the car for others (family, friend, referees, my network).  Riding a bike however is quite different, the engine is you and there is not additional horse power you can call upon to get up the hill, there is no protection from the elements (if it rains you are going to get wet), parts of you are always sore, and you really can’t fit anyone else on the bike with you, you are essentially all on your own.

This is unfortunately the experience of unemployment or looking for work that faces a lot of people, in particular those from generationally unemployed, very low socio-economic or low qualification households and even when they get a job, in a lot of cases the situation doesn’t change that much, they are still pedalling away on their bikes while you and I cruise past in our cars.

So as I rode along this morning I struggled to think  of some answers or suggestions to this problem (I don’t listen to music when I exercise I use the time to thing about things like this, weird isn’t it) while also thinking about what we are currently doing with our job services and employment agencies.  We can provide people with things like petrol or public transport funds to get to interviews, assist them with clothes to look the part and skills to meet the needs of the employer, but if working or becoming educated is not something that is reinforced at home, either actively or passively then even the most motivated person is still just pedalling away, sure they are going forward, but now where near as fast or a comfortably as I am in my car.

The problem is of course that , if it is raining, I am running late, or I just simply don’t feel like, I don’t have to ride, I have a choice.  I just grab my keys, jump in my car, and enjoy a relatively stress free drive to work.  However for others this is not the case, if it is raining they are going to get wet and there are only so many times people are going to get wet, particularly when there is not someone at home waiting for them with towel, before they decided to put the bike in the garage and give up on riding altogether.

I dont want to be a trainer all my life!

Career progression in L&D in general and the Australian VET sector in particular

 

Over the past couple of weeks I have encounters a number of conversations or articles, one example of which is by the ever erudite Sukh Pabial, around how to get started or how to progress ones career in the world of L&D.  While I firmly believe that L&D really is the HR sweet spot, some of the comments and issues that have been raised about the L&D industry seem quite valid both from an international point of view and from an Australian perspective.  The question I have been asked a number of times recently has been, ‘How do I get started in training?’  My initial off the cuff response, at least to those people in Australia was to go out and get their Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, but recently I have realised that I was actually embedding quite a lot of assumptions in the statement I was making, mainly I think due to the fact that I have been involved much more heavily in the management of L&D and training in the last few years than the coal face shall we say.

This minor revelation came about when myself and a long time friend were talking about how we get involved in the industry and realised that both of us started outside the VET sector, delivering non nationally accredited training in fee for service providers and that neither of us when we started had a TAE qualification and worked for a number of years quite successfully without every needing it.  But now it seems that everyone in the training industry and beyond whether involved in the delivery and assessment of accredited training or not, expects that everyone will at a minimum have the TAE qualification.  But what about an HR person with a degree and a specialisation in Learning and Development, do they need to get the entry-level qualification on top of their other qualifications.  Definitely, if they want to deliver training, or and let’s be fair here, even work in the RTO/VET sector in Australia, but more and more it is simply expected that those involved in L&D in this country with have a TAE.  Now I am not intending to argue whether or not this is a good thing or the value of the qualification or anything like that, but and I come back to my revelation, getting the qualification is not by necessity the first thing you should do if you want to become involved in L&D, what you really need is experience.

Now I am not talking here of just experience in training and L&D or HR, I am talking about a wider workplace experience, that begins to develop your depth of knowledge about how organisations and the people within them think and work.  This was driven home to me recently when I was having a conversation with a younger person who was taking part in a TAE program and when she was asked what it was wanted to train and why she wanted to do the course, she responded by saying she didn’t know what she wanted to train, but she just really wanted to train and teach people and become part of the L&D/Training industry.  I mean I wish her the best but with a Cert IV TAE, a generalist business degree and almost no experience, I think it might be a very hard road for her.

But what about when you are already in the industry, most of us involved in L&D and the VET sector are very passionate about what we do, we do it because we love it, it is as they say ‘in our blood’, but and this is what really struck me about Sukh’s post was there is little or no career progression within organisations, be they dedicated training organisations or L&D units within businesses.  Unlike a lot of other career pathways, you don’t start in a junior role and slowly progress into more senior positions, for me like Sukh, all of my career progressions have been because I have moved roles from one organisation to another.  We tend it seems to hire trainers as trainers and don’t really offer them a pathway to anything else, except perhaps ‘Senior Trainer’ or the like.  So they train for as long as it excites them and then they either leave the profession or they look for other roles outside the organisation they are in.  The same goes for Admin people and Compliance people and the works, we seem to want to pigeon-hole people and once they are in their hole, that is what we continue to think of them as.  Then as an added ‘bonus’ in Australia you have the TAFE, Training providers, organisational divide, where it would be exceedingly rare for someone to be given a role in a TAFE that had not had experience in a TAFE, though in reality there is very little difference between running a TAFE, a large training organisation or an organisation L&D department.  And the same goes in other directions as well, most non TAFE people think TAFE folk are boring, conservative and not terribly innovative, TAFE people thin commercial providers are cowboys out for a buck and corporate L&D thinks itself aloof from everyone.

So I wonder whether we can have the kind of progression in the L&D world that we might see in other professions, I think the problem for us is that there are a lot choices available to people who want to be involved in this sector of the workforce, and a lot of different avenues for people to explore and often the higher you get up the food chain and the more experienced you get the less you end up doing the things that make you passionate about this life we call L&D.

Trainer Ultilisation, trainer quality and learner outcomes

How many hours a week should a trainer deliver Face to face training?

What is a manageable, reasonable and maintainable number of hours a week in which a trainer can deliver face to face training, and does delivering very high hourly levels of face to face training have an adverse effect on the quality of the training and the learner outcomes?

So the old TAFE award in Queensland said 21 hours a week was the amount a time a trainer could be scheduled for face to face training, so in my book that is three days of training.  The rest of the time was for preparation, marking, administration, professional development and other related activities.  However and this I think is where the question gets interesting, what if the Trainer is a full-time staff member, so 38 Hours a week, and the training is all already developed, there is only a small percentage of marking/assessment involved and most of the administration is done by dedicated administration staff.  Is say 4 days of face to face a sustainable level, where the trainer wont burn out over a period of time and quality and learner outcomes wont suffer?

Before I continue I will say that I think 3 days of face to face a week (60%) of workload, is a good minimum standard.  I say this because I have over the years been involved in roles where the levels of face to face training were much higher and after a while (and really to be honest not all that long), the quality of the presentation and the outcomes for the learner decline.  In my single biggest year as a trainer I trained over 3000 people face to face and worked in excess of 190 days, which works out on average to be 4 days a week. (The fifth day of the week was more often than not taken up with travel)  This I can tell you from first hand experience is unsustainable in the long-term and perhaps even in the medium term.

The other part of this question then also relates to assessment.  Through our RTO we have a fairly large number of students, a lot of whom are doing, assessment only, RPL, distance learning for most of their learning, so for a number of our trainers rather than delivery of face to face training making up the bulk of what they do on a daily basis, assessment is the prime component and for others it is about s 50/50 split.  So therefore a follow-up question is, is it reasonable to expect a trainer might be fully utilised (100% 5 out of 5 days) doing only either face to face training plus assessment?  If that doesn’t seem unreasonable what then is a reasonable split between training and assessment or is it just a scheduling and workload issue at that point?

I have to admit that I have reservations however about suggesting that a trainer/assessor could be for all intents and purposes 100% utilised simply doing training and assessment, without there being a decline in the quality of both the training and the assessment activities and as a result a decline in the learner outcomes.

The final question then is should utilisation be made part of performance reviews, particularly in a situation where the trainer has no control over the amount of training or assessment that will be required on a week to week basis as it is really not about their performance, it is just a question of volume of work.

I would be really interested in hearing what everyone else thinks about this and how (if at all) they use trainer utilisation within their organisations.

Can you teach innovation and entrepreneurial skills

So, Can you?

I have read a number of articles recently were Governments, business and various luminaries have suggested that what we need to be doing more of, what we need to be teaching more of is how to be innovative, how to entrepreneurial, however, and this is my sticking point here, can we actually teach these skills or more importantly, if we can teach a set of skills with we deem to be entrepreneurial skills them will that actually make people more entrepreneurial.  Will teaching people ‘innovation’ skills lead to more and greater innovation or more innovators.

My answer – I am really not sure.

 What makes me not sure is something very simple, is there something about, truly great innovators, entrepreneurs, and even leaders that isn’t teachable.  Even if we can distill what makes a true innovator down to a set of definable skills, which we can impart to others, will the people we impart the skills to become truly great innovators or do they need something else.

Not everyone who plays sport (no matter how much they train) will go on to be the best in the world, or even approach being the best in the world, or even their country or state.  Why, well, for a range of reasons, genetics for one, luck, environment, other people, there are a range of reasons.  Do they gain skills and knowledge through the process yes, does that make them an athlete, maybe, does it make them a truly great athlete, probably not.

I have seen lots of people struggle through courses and programs, Leadership, Innovation Entrepreneurship and other such topics, because their employer wanted to them to, they had to have it move forward in their careers, or they had been marketed the hype that these courses would really teach them how to be innovative.  Did it work? In some cases probably, but in a lot of cases, they went back to their roles, they continued their jobs, they did what they were good at, and were successful at it.  They were successful at it because it was what they were good at or what they enjoyed.

Teaching someone entrepreneurial skills, who is really not interested in being entrepreneurial, seems to me, like a lot of these sorts of training to be a real waste of time and resources, and even more so if it turns out that we can’t really teach people how to be entrepreneurial in the first place.

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