Monday, September 27, 2010

Help wanted - virtualize me!

Due to an unfortunate confluence of events it looks like I won't be able to make it to WOLCE this year. Fact is, I wasn't intending to go. I was a little disappointed by it last year, and now that Learning Technologies has Learning & Skills to run alongside, I really couldn't see the point in going. Not to say that it is bad, only for my needs right now, WOLCE isn't really right.

However, at my company we've been experiencing a spot of trouble with our software systems and it's quite likely that WOLCE is the sort of place that someone with a solution might show up. Unfortunately, at short notice I'm not really able to make it either day that the show is running, so if you are going, take a look at our needs and if you spot someone selling anything like this, ask them to get in touch with me via or @danroddy on Twitter.

Our need
My employer runs residential training courses at our training centre, and on-site training if clients have enough of a need. We need to be able to plan and schedule face-to-face courses, sell them, share data with partner organisations and reconcile everything with our finance team. We also need to be able to store learner data so that we can answer their queries in the months and years after they attend - some of our courses ensure that they are able to get on registers for certified personnel so our training is important to them - they just sometimes misplace the certificates...

It would be cool too, but not vital, if there was the option to tie up to an LMS (we run Moodle) and if the student record system was capable of tracking other training types, like vocational courses. If it were capable of managing resources like rooms and hardware, then we would be scrabbling for a chequebook. And we'll offer the hand in marriage of any unmarried member of the team if it also can run a conference venue.

In short, we are looking for a student management information system for short course providers, with all the trimmings. The emphasis has to be on supporting face-to-face training.

But we can compromise.

There are only two products that seem to match our need*. CourseBooker, which pretty much does what it says on the tin, but which we abandoned a few years ago, and a newish product called onCourse, which looks very exciting, but which doesn't have a UK supplier just yet. Any attempt to search online for this kind of thing unfortunately seems to hit every keyword for an LMS, no matter how you try to cut it, and frankly I'm skeptical of LMSs' ability to do what we are after - they are nearly always elearning first, anything else as an add on (since the developers can't make much from it).

So, if you are at WOLCE, or frankly just reading about this and think you know of a suitable product, PLEASE let me or them know and try to get in touch. I'll buy you a beer at the Learning Techologies after party** in 2011...

* There is also the product that we have, but just because we have it, it doesn't follow that it matches our needs. Seriously, we used to be public sector and the procurement mess on the current system shows how far we've come in some ways***
** First I need to get invited. Or arrange it. Let's say the pub across the road from Olympia, about 5pm on the Tuesday? Brilliant, see you there.
*** Not very.

Meta-learning: educational fungus

When I was at school we showed up, we were told a bunch of stuff and we went home. This model pretty much continued throughout my education - A levels and degree were all completed in a bubble of self-ignorance. Work-place learning similarly was usually fairly direct: "here's a bunch of stuff you need to know. We've told you. You know it. Now carry on"*

Not so any longer it seems.

It appears that all learning these days needs to be presaged by a lengthy study of what it means to be a learner. I first noticed this in my first job as a trainer with a government agency - we ran a course that simply focused on how to develop your skills as learner, but this was optional thing. My colleagues in the "soft-skills" team were switched on to getting their delegates (always "learners" in their parlance - never "trainees") to reflect on their development, and mandated by things like Investors in People, we encouraged everyone to discover their learning style, keep a CPD folder, start a journal of reflective practice and so on.

This was something that was at the heart of the Certificate in Training Practice too - my first formal step in qualification as a workplace learning "professional".

And now it seems it is a primary part of ANY learning opportunity. The foundation degree we offer has extensive opportunities to reflect on the experience of being a learner - indeed the first module our students undertake asks them to think about nothing else!

Now I am looking at a variety of off the shelf NVQ type qualifications aimed at lower level learners - Levels 2 & 3 in the UK structure - and as much as a quarter of a qualification can be taken up by learning about the process of learning.

I am wondering just how useful all this is in some cases. In knowledge based work, characterised by variety and difference in activity, reflective learning might pose a great help in considering how to approach similar but different material in future. In in the type of repetitive, process driven work I am looking at in these qualifications the opportunities for reflective learning are surely somewhat limited. Often there is not a great deal of variety in activity and the focus is more on following guidelines quite closely for compliance issues as much as anything. Even if there is any variety, the nature of the work means that time for reflection in the workplace is somewhat limited - the emphasis has to be on simply getting the job done.

While I'm all for the reflective ideals of continuous professional development, surely at the point at which thinking about yourself is 25% of a qualification - ostensibly aimed at getting you up and running as an entry-level technician - things have gotten out of hand. It's too much and misses the imperative to focus on the needs of the business in producing effective training interventions that will be valued by managers?

My feeling is that this is self-aggrandisement by the learning/education/training people responsible for developing these qualifications. By playing up the knowledge of learning they are keen to show that learning has to be held in some kind of complex structure; almost as if they are building some kind of arcane lore about it all. I'm not sure, but my instinct is that for many learners this is a turn off. For lots of people the goal is to show up at work, do it right, then go home, and hopefully not have to think about it. Perhaps I wouldn't be so worried, were it not for the fact that from what I have seen and what I have experienced, this part of their learning experience is going to be occupied with thoughts of learning styles, Maslow, "10% of what you read", left and right brain and other elements with a hint of "truthiness" about them.

Which may not really be to the advantage of someone who simply wants a decent qualification so they can earn more money.

* This wasn't THAT long ago, I'm only 34.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Verifiable CPD? Really? What do you mean?

Now, when I learnt about CPD way back in the day I got the sense that it should be an intrinsic thing - something that I recorded and to some extent defined. CPD could come from anything - reflections on activity; useful blog discussions I had been part of, books read, talks attended, and of course training courses. Then from time to time I would show what I had recorded to someone and they would approve some or all of what I had done.

But it would seem that for some professions there is a wholly different notion - that of "verifiable CPD". Here's what the British Dental Association have to say on their CPD site:
In partnership with Eastman Continuing Professional Development, the British Dental Journal offers a CPD programme to enable all UK dental practitioners registered with the General Dental Council to collect a maximum of 48 hours of verifiable CPD per annum.

Each issue of the Journal contains two papers that have been selected for verifiable CPD and four multiple choice questions will be linked to each article.

Practitioners will receive one verifiable CPD hour per paper, giving a potential total of two CPD hours per BDJ issue. A record of CPD credits will be maintained by Eastman Continuing Professional Development and certification will be forwarded to the participants. Answers to the questions will also appear in the Journal a month later.
Now I find this kind of thing bizarre, but it's rather telling that it is attached to the BDA Journal.

From a cursory search for "verifiable CPD" it seems that most of the references here in the UK are related to dentistry (to the extent that @verifiablecpd on Twitter is dentally themed), but that's not the only profession that calls on it. Here's an interesting definition from the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus (!?):
Non-verifiable CPD Non-verifiable CPD is a learning activity which has taken place, but doesn't have a defined or specific learning outcome.  This would include, for example, general reading of professional magazines; following financial and business matters in print and media; and discussions with colleagues in an informal setting (for example, learning about developments in business or finance at a social event, or informally through networking at a business event, etc).  ICPAC requires you to provide a summary of this activity each year.
Verifiable CPD Verifiable CPD is activity where you can provide evidence that the learning was relevant to your current or future career needs, and you can prove that it took place.  You will need to be able to explain why you chose the activity and how it is relevant to you, when the activity took place, what you learned and how you will apply your learning.  Verifiable CPD does not have to be about attending courses - an example of verifiable CPD is outlined below:
Well, so far so good. The crux of the argument appears to be that CPD only really counts if it is planned in some way. But the example, to my eyes, seems to cross over the non-verifiable side:
In order to write a business paper, you might need to undertake 4 hours of research on the internet, learning in a subject area that is new to you, or where regulation has changed.  You would then write the report.  The report is the evidence of your verifiable CPD.  It shows that you have applied the learning you acquired.  The research you undertook is the learning activity.  You will therefore have completed 4 units of verifiable CPD.
Such verification as there is exists solely on what you say you did in order to do something else. I'm not sure that I would say that this is an entirely legitimate model. But that's not to say that I don't believe the learning that has taken place is entirely legitimate - it's simply the notion of quantifiable CPD that I struggle with. One person's hour of research might be 30 minutes to someone else with better Google skills. And that's just one hole I might pick with the concept. Feel free pick more in the comments.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Gaminess in learning

Just wanted to catch an important point about what constitutes gaminess - can't remember where it comes from, but I'm fairly sure that Simon Bostock would have been involved in bringing it in to my field of vision:

Five points that mean gamey:
  1. Collecting (ie badges)
  2. Points and levels
  3. Feedback to lead to improvement
  4. Exchange (for P2P activity)
  5. Customisation (for an individual experience)
So, gaminess is not a quiz dressed up as hangman or a car race - this is the gaminess that creates re-playability and the desire to improve.

Who knows, one day I might think about how you might develop say an induction programme around these principles - or maybe you know where someone else has already done that.