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


A Predictably Irrational Way to Lose Our Best Employees

July 29, 2010

There is thought-provoking news to be drawn from the latest quarterly “Employee Outlook” survey report published by the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): short-sighted cuts in training budgets may be laying the groundwork for an exodus of our best employees.

Here’s what the report shows: Job satisfaction levels in the United Kingdom are, as we might suspect in the current recession, very low (approximately 35% of the more than 2,000 public, private, and nonprofit sector employees surveyed—p. 2 of the report). More than a third of the respondents said they would change jobs within the next year if they could (p. 3). Nearly one-fourth of those who would like to change jobs would “be looking in a different sector” (p. 3). More than a third of all surveyed said they would seek a different type of work if they decided to switch jobs (p. 15). And approximately 40 percent of the respondents said one of the main reasons they would attempt to switch jobs is “to learn new things.”

That level of movement is consistent with what I have seen and read about in organizations here in the United States whenever there is an economic downturn. The latest report suggests that there remains a tremendous need and interest in effective training-learning opportunities out there at a time when there are clear signs that spending on workplace learning and performance programs has fallen. Younger employees currently entering the workplace, furthermore, are also continuing a related trend documented earlier: the Pew Research Center’s recent report on Millennials suggests that these incoming employees will be the best educated we’ve ever seen, and they expect to engage in lifelong learning to remain competitive.

Someone, we might conclude, is clearly not reading between the lines here or seeing the possibilities inherent in this situation.

Less than half of those responding to the CIPD survey said that their managers and supervisors discuss their workplace learning and performance needs. Slightly more than one-fourth of the employees said “their manager always/usually coaches them on the job” (p. 2). While cutbacks in training programs appear to be slowing down, more than 20 percent of the respondents said those sorts of cutbacks have occurred during the past year (p. 10).

Training, as numerous reports have shown and as Deena Sami noted in the Orange County Register earlier this month, is a critically important element contributing to employees’ workplace satisfaction and success. Yet we seem to fall into the trap of making what Dan Ariely calls “predictably irrational” decisions in his book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions; we engage in predictably irrational behavior every time we reduce workplace learning and performance programs rather than increasing them when employee morale is already sinking.

The situation documented by the CIPD report becomes even more predictably irrational when we listen to presentations like the one given by American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) CEO Tony Bingham at the organization’s annual Chapter Leaders Conference in Arlington, VA last autumn. Bingham, addressing workplace learning and performance professionals from across the country, warned that those waiting for training programs to return to companies which had eliminated them were counting on “a dream, a fantasy.” Company executives who had made those cuts told Bingham they were satisfied with the reductions and don’t intend to bring back the programs they have eliminated.

Our challenge in workplace learning and performance, then, is straightforward. If we see the possibility of a huge exodus looming for our organizations when the global economy improves, and if we know that the exodus will be fueled by a desire for first-rate learning opportunities which we are not providing, we clearly need to be creating and supporting new learning opportunities for those treasured employees we currently have—before we lose them to smarter and more innovative employers.


Pew Report on Millennials: A Generation of Learners?

February 28, 2010

Trainer-teacher-learners who took the time to read the Pew Research Center’s fabulous new report (Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next) when it was released a few days ago found plenty of cause for joy.

The opening lines of the executive summary suggest that members of this group—born after 1980 and currently 18 to 29 years old—“are on track to become the most educated generation in American history,” and the wonderfully nuanced report helps the rest of us understand why this may come to pass.

This trend, according to those who produced Millennials, can easily be explained as one “driven largely by the demands of  a modern knowledge-based economy, but most likely accelerated in recent years by the millions of 20-somethings enrolling in graduate schools, colleges or community colleges in part because they can’t find a job” (pp. 2-3 of the full report).

The report is balanced enough to note that the situation for Millennials may still change: “Millennials have not yet matched the educational attainment of Gen Xers. So far, 19% are college graduated compared with 35% of Gen Xers. About four-in-ten Millennials are still in school,” and “30% of those not in school say they plan to go back to earn a college degree” (p. 40)—a situation which could evolve as Millennials face the same challenges many of their predecessors faced when trying to implement their best laid plans.

Obstacles they currently face include “too little money and too little time,” yet only “14% say they are not attending school because they don’t need more education” (p. 43). Their challenges have also been well documented in an article recently published in The Atlantic (“How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America”).

So what we’re seeing is a trainer-teacher-learner’s dream: a new group of employees and prospective employees attempting to enter the workforce with a firm recognition of and commitment to the importance of education; a highly educated and motivated group that remains optimistic in spite of some of the worst challenges to face young workers in decades; and a group that is going to keep the rest of us on our toes if we want to be able to serve them effectively to take advantage of all they appear to be willing to offer us and the organizations we support. It looks as if we, too, have challenges to which we must rise.


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