NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 3 of 6): Opportunities Among Solvable, Difficult, and Wicked Challenges in Learning and Technology

February 7, 2014

Any of us involved in training-teaching-learning might take comfort in the idea that we’re not alone in the challenges we face—something made abundantly clear in the latest Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverAlthough by definition focused on challenges in academic institutions, the report readily lends itself to serving as first-rate documentation of challenges—and potential solutions to them—far beyond the physical and virtual walls of its intended audience in higher education. Those “significant challenges,” arranged along three distinct time horizons, are grouped into solvable challenges (the low digital fluency of faculty members and the relative lack of rewards for teaching); difficult challenges (competition from new models of education and ways to scale innovations in teaching); and wicked challenges (expanding access to educational opportunities and keeping education relevant) that will take much longer to resolve.   

One consistent theme that connects several of the challenges is the need to help teachers (and, by extension, other learning facilitators) develop better teaching/training skills. It’s an obvious element of addressing the problems of low digital fluency among teacher-trainer-learners, lack of rewards for teaching/facilitating learning, addressing new models of education as well as workplace learning and performance (staff training), and keeping education (and training) relevant.

It’s not as if we’re lacking in options in dealing with some of these issues. The report contains links to a variety of articles documenting creative approaches, such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Davidson College collaboration to “create a comprehensive curicular model of digital studies to support the faculty’s development of digital skills.” With a bit of creativity, we might be able to apply, to other training-teaching-learning settings, what comes out of that collaboration.

Sahlberg--Finnish_LessonsMoving to an even deeper level of engagement, we might find ourselves inspired to seek productive and creative collaborations by the fact that “[e]mployers have reported disappointment in the lack of real world readiness they observe in recent graduates who are prospective or current employees” (p. 21)—something clearly not solely a problem for those in academia. Pasi Sahlberg has already, through his book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, provided one potentially fruitful route of exploration for those seeking business-education collaborations. Sources cited within the Horizon Report, including the UK-based JISC, provide other collaborative models through which “schools, public libraries, and community learning bodies” partner to explore information and communications technology in learning (quoting from Wikipedia).

And our own experiences working in and with a variety of learning organizations places us in a great position to tackle a broad and particularly wicked problem: “It is difficult for institutions to stay ahead of workforce needs” (p. 21).

My own involvement in New Media Consortium projects, American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) activities, and a variety of training-teaching-learning endeavors through the American Library Association, has convinced me that collaborations among these three first-rate learning organizations could produce positive results that the organizations and their members cannot accomplish on their own—it’s really no different than the JISC approach to bringing schools, libraries, and community learning bodies together. And I suspect that trainer-teacher-learners with experiences and affiliations far different from my own can readily see equally strong prospective partners capable of addressing the challenge of finding ways to stay ahead of workforce needs.

nmc.logo.cmykThe resources mentioned in passing in the “Significant Challenges” section of this new Horizon Report could (and probably should) keep us busy for several weeks or months. In addition to the references to JISC, we find brief, easy to overlook mentions of the 2013 Report to the European Commission on Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Europe’s Higher Education Institutions; Harvard University’s WIDE World online resource for teachers, professors, teacher trainers, and administrators; and the European Commission’s Opening Up Education and Training initiative in addition to numerous links to shorter articles and videos. There are also abundant reminders that expanding access to learning opportunities relies as much on helping people learn to learn in online environments as it does on technology infrastructure. Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars’ “Adaptability to Online Learning” report through the Community College Research Center at Colombia University is one significant resource that carries us far beyond what can be documented within the pages of the new Horizon Report and is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in helping learners thrive in online learning environments.

Learners themselves seem to understand that we need to be working more diligently to create a vibrant and responsive lifelong learning environment moving beyond traditional silos within our organizations (academic learning opportunities that don’t interact with staff training programs that don’t interact with learning opportunities provided by libraries). There is clearly recognition—at least among Millennials—that lifelong learning has become essential to lifelong success in the contemporary workplace, the 2010 Pew Research Center report Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, documented. Expanded interactions among NMC, ASTD, and ALA members alone could produce positive responses to that perceived need and the challenges noted in the latest Higher Education Edition in the Horizon Report series.

What the report does, then, is highlight the challenges we face so we don’t lose sight of them. It reminds us that we are far from alone in trying to resolve those challenges. And it encourages us to draw upon available resources to better serve those who rely on us to provide effective learning experiences that address their—and our—short- and long-term needs.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Flipped Classrooms and Learning Analytics

Advertisements

Connected Learning, Project-Based Learning, and Learners as Authors

August 20, 2013

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” Peter Steiner suggested in his well-known The New Yorker cartoon two decades ago. And nobody would know that a recently-published book on connected learning and learner-centric education that effectively incorporates technology into learning and is available on Amazon.com is a project-based learning achievement produced by 27 Norwegian high school students under the guidance of their teacher, Ann Michaelsen—unless they had found the ebook Connected Learners: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Global Classroom or heard a few of the authors interviewed this afternoon on the latest episode of Steve Hargadon’s Future of Education series online.

Connected_Learners--CoverHigh-school projects generally aren’t available as ebooks on Amazon.com. Then again, most high-school projects don’t effectively and engagingly lead us into an exploration of contemporary “webucation” while providing a first-rate example of what project-based learning can produce among students of any age. Michaelsen herself describes the book as a “compendium of articles, advice and how-to instructions, designed to help high school teachers and their students around the globe shift from classrooms that are isolated and teacher-centered to digitally rich environments where learning is student-driven and constantly connected to the global internet.” But there’s no need to believe that the publication doesn’t apply to a far wider audience of trainer-teacher-learners.

The writers’ goal is explicitly stated up front: “…we want to teach YOU how to master the skills of webucation. We will teach you how to make a blog and integrate it into your learning. We will discuss the positive effects of a digital classroom and inspire you to use digital tools.”

And while this is hardly a revolutionary idea—the #etmooc Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC), Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Library, and the Social Media Basics and other courses I design and facilitate for ALA Editions, are just a few examples of how richly rewarding many of us are finding online experiential learning to be. It’s also another fabulous reminder that anyone involved in teaching-training-learning needs to be aware of these explorations not only to keep our learning toolkits fresh, but to be ready for the learners who are entering our worksites rapidly and in increasingly large numbers.

Future_of_EducationOne of the benefits of learning from these learners via Hargadon’s Future of Education interview was the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their own learning environment. The live chat, for example, suggested that what Michaelsen facilitated is widespread in that particular Norwegian school; confirmed that final exams were replaced by reviews of the work the learners produced for the book; and showed that the learners themselves found the work to be “extremely interesting and exciting” and instrumental in fostering “student engagement and motivation”—elements apparently equally strong in the innovative Finnish school system, as we saw in Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland.

Another benefit was to hear the students’ post-learning assessments. Asked whether he would consider writing another book collaboratively outside of school, co-author Haakon Bakker admitted “Maybe not; it’s a big process. But that would be really fun.” Another co-author, Ulrik Randsborg Lie, suggested that a key lesson learned was the importance of advocating for educational change: “It’s all about making the teacher take action” to move toward more connective, experiential technology-supported learning.

Even the most cursory skim of the book excerpts available on Amazon.com suggests that the writers have produced a book rich in resources. There are links to recommendations for setting up Twitter accounts and blogs, using Google Docs and Dropbox, and tips on embedding videos into PowerPoint presentations. There are explorations of 21st-century learning skills. And there are chapters on gaming to learn, digital literacy, and assessment.

Hearing Bakker acknowledge that collaborative authorship is “a big process” suggests how successful this particular learning experience can be. And the possibility of inspiring other learners to produce equally impressive learning objects to help others reminds all trainer-teacher-learners of the key roles we can and must continue to play in contributing to effective and inspirational learning at all levels.


Learning Innovations: Crossing the Finnish Line with Pasi Sahlberg

January 31, 2013

Pasi Salhberg, in Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, doesn’t pretend to have a universally applicable solution to the problems we face in providing effective learning opportunities. But the wonderfully produced snapshot he provides of the Finnish school system and its support of vocational training is something none of us can afford to ignore. If we’re at all interested in seeing how the top-ranked education system worldwide produced its successes, we’re in the right place with Finnish Lessons.

Sahlberg--Finnish_LessonsThis is not a book that is useful only to those in academia. The descriptions of a learning system that eschews a single-minded emphasis on testing and explores, instead, ways to engage all learners and provide them with communities of learning that produce results, touches any trainer-teacher-learner. It’s a fabulous approach to the wicked problem of reinventing learning, and Sahlberg engagingly and concisely helps us understand what he and his colleagues have achieved.

As writer-speaker-researcher-teacher Andy Hargreaves tells us in his forward to Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons shows how a vision “of educational and social change connected to inclusiveness and creativity” that relies on “high-quality, well-trained teachers” engaged in creating, nurturing, and sustaining communities of learning has propelled the Finnish education system to recognition as a world leader.

There are many striking elements to what Sahlberg documents—not the least of which is the difference between Finnish perceptions and those held by the rest of us. He describes the transformation as having been relatively quick—extending over a 40-year period, with much of the crucial work done between the 1980s and the turn of the millennium. It’s a staggeringly different view of time than that held by many of us here in the United States, where we seem foolishly stuck in a way of life predicated on the belief that every two- or four-year election cycle marks a time for a “new start.”

Sahlberg summarizes his work concisely within the first few pages of Finnish Lessons: “The main message of this book is that there is another way to improve education systems. This includes improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals” (p. 5). He also tells us that “The Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation—not choice and competition—can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Paying teachers based on students’ test scores or converting public schools into private ones (through charters or other means) are ideas that have no place in the Finnish repertoire for educational improvements” (p. 9).

It’s not hard to see how we can apply that philosophy to any learning environment—from K- 12 all the way through any workplace learning and performance (staff training) program by focusing on learning rather than on lowest-common-denominator testing–by developing our faculty/trainers rather than, as so often happens in staff training, shoving “accidental (unprepared) trainers” into learning environments in a sink-or-swim endeavor that serves neither learners nor learning facilitators.

The Finnish system, according to Sahlberg, also works within a framework that “places a stronger emphasis on understanding students’ cognitive development and also invited schools to make the best use of their own and their community’s strengths” (p. 25)—something our best colleagues incorporate into academic settings as well as successful workplace learning and performance programs.

The results, for Finland, have been spectacular: “What is noteworthy is that Finland has been able to upgrade human capital by transforming its education system from mediocre to one of the best international performers in a relatively short period of time” (p. 42).

Sahlberg turns to a broad roadmap, in the final pages of his book, to help us explore what he and his colleagues have created. Suggesting that we create “a community of learners that provides the conditions that allow all young people to discover their talent” (p. 140)—and there’s no reason why we have to limit ourselves to “young people” here—he suggests four broad steps: development of a personal road map for learning; less classroom-based teaching; development of interpersonal skills and problem solving; and engagement and creativity as pointers of success.

If we can adapt any part of these Finnish lessons by applying them in our own settings, perhaps the wicked problem of reforming education and lifelong learning in our country will become a little less wicked.


New Year, Old (Unfinished) Learning Business

January 11, 2013

Senge--Fifth-Discipline_CoverIt’s no secret that the most successful organizations have a commitment to continuous learning. We see this in the annual celebration of BEST Award winners through the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). We’ve read—and reread—Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization and walked away with a clear understanding of how the development of communities of learning is a winning proposition. We’ve inhaled and absorbed The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results by Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andrew Jefferson, so we know that simple actions can transform one-time learning events into a cohesive learning process that makes learning stick.

And yet we don’t have to go very far to see that workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts still are seen by many managers and employees as something that we have to do when we really should be doing our jobs—a diversion away from work.

It’s not difficult to understand how we’ve reached this point. Many of us feel as if the pace of work continually increases with little compensation, so we find ourselves trying to do more with less and less discretionary time while recognizing that something has to give. And let’s be honest: there are plenty of staff training offerings that are more deadly dull than the list of ingredients on the side of a bag of potato chips—workshops or webinars offered to meet a legal or company mandate, or thrown together at the end of a budget year so we’re not left with unexpended funds in an organizational training budget. We and our learners are tired of being forced to look at PowerPoint presentations with cheap clip art and far too much (unreadable) text, delivered by instructors who are trying to cram too much content into too short a period of time—whether it’s face to face or delivered via an online asynchronous course which, by the way, keeps crashing because there’s a disconnect between the technology used by the instructor and the technology used by the learner.

On the other extreme of our learning landscape, we have first-rate learner-centric offerings that creatively meet our organizations’ and our own learning needs—yet we almost feel guilty for taking advantage of those opportunities because it means we leave our colleagues short-handed while we’re away from our worksite.

That, I believe, is the small but essential bit of unfinished business we need to address, and the beginning of a new year gives us an admittedly artificial opportunity to take a new look at this long-standing workplace challenge. Each of us—from highest level executive to least-motivated member of our organizations—needs to work toward seeing training-learning as an integral part of all we do rather than continuing to support the myth that learning is a diversion, something apart from work that needs to be quickly completed and checked off a to-do list so we can literally get back to work.

If learning becomes a recognized and cherished part of work, we’re taking a significant step toward developing first-rate communities of learning all around us. This, in turn, provides more motivation to make each of those learning opportunities as professionally polished as the products and services provided by the best organizations we can find. It also makes us better, more deft, at serving those who rely on us.

We’re not going to change the face of learning in a single year; transformational success stories along the lines of those told in Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons take a commitment to decades of changing attitudes and procedures. But if we do begin by fostering a greater appreciation for the magnificent results that engaging training-teaching-learning offers, and recognize that work and learning are completely intertwined rather than somehow in opposition to each other, we may be closer to completing another piece of unfinished business.


%d bloggers like this: