Monday, December 16, 2013

Everyone, seemingly, is in favour of learning - as long as it doesn't mean them and it doesn't mean now

I'm working with Patrick, a young Zimbabwean who decided a few years ago to go out on his own. A courageous choice in our decrepit economic environment.  So that Patrick is struggling to build his business is not surprising.  Patrick, traditionally in the recruitment profession has now built on a training and consulting business which started off as 'etiquette and grooming' because that was where he found a huge demand by individuals he was trying to place in jobs in the market.

Now in December 2013 and with a new government replacing the previous 'Government of National Unity' the economy has sunk even further and jobs, scarce before are almost non-existent as companies go to the wall and new ones fail to get off the ground.  So Patrick has been working at promoting his training business which now includes me on occasions and a couple of others who are experienced managers.

Patrick has unflagging energy and when he is not actually out there earning - which is a lot of the time - he is canvassing his local network for new business.  Frequently he gets a long way down the track until eventually the subject of 'how much is this going to cost?' comes up.

And this is where his leads become in danger of being lost.

There is a wealth of current literature 'out there' that tells us that learning and development of people has become a must-do activity in organisations of the future.  And the present, because if they don't there will be no future.  Lifelong learning has become not just a fad but a necessity as rapid technological, social and organisational change makes massive and unending inroads on the present and the perceived way of doing things.

It doesn't matter whether you are a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker or even a banker, a miner, a police force or an airline, learning is as much a need to organisations as breathing is to living.  So why does Patrick meet with so many rejections - all of which are excused by potential buyers on 'we don't have any money'.

But they have money to pay the executives salaries and purchase the latest executive cars.  There is money for entertaining their customers (and themselves) on the golf courses, there is money for a first class air fare to London or New York and a weekend in a luxury hotel.

So why not for learning?  

This morning I read an article by Chris Majer, founder and CEO of The Human Potential Project and he writes about the Obstacles to Learning.  Unsurprisingly the first obstacle on his list of ten is 'Being Blind to Your Blindness' which reminds me of a long ago story of my former friend and mentor, Alan Bridgland who was attempting to sell an Executive Development Programme to the Chief Executive of one of Zimbabwe's leading manufacturing businesses in those oh so long ago days when the economy used to function.  Alan was asked by the CEO who the programme was aimed at.  "You", said Alan pointing at the CEO who turned around in his chair to see who was behind him.  There was no-one there of course.

Are you blind to your blindness?  Or are you willing to learn?   There are other dangers to learning but none so great as not learning.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Future of Learning in Zimbabwe

Last Thursday Patrick Kariwo and I ran an open course at the Royal Harare Golf Club.  It was something that we have wanted to do for a long time in order to present our recent discoveries about how the world of learning has moved on in recent years due largely to the advent of the Internet.   I wanted to present Patrick and myself as a ‘team’.  Patrick has such a wealth of experience of another side to the Zimbabwe environment that I tend to miss out on.   And conversely I have experience of another kind.  Together Patrick and I, I believe, are a strong team in the murky waters of the present Zimbabwe economy.

The course was a great success, mainly because of the quality of the participants – three from two of Zimbabwe’s senior schools both with outstanding reputations, while the others were from varied walks of life, all with an interest in developing their own capacity and capability.  The interaction between them was fast and furious.

Our thrust was to awaken them to the incredible new learning adventures to be found through the medium of the Internet and to bring an awareness to them of the opportunities and to the pitfalls that they could encounter.   We were aided by TED video presentations by Sugata Mitra and Sir Ken Robinson both of whom have some radical views on the future of education.

The feedback from participants has been valuable.  One negative comment from one participant about the ‘hanging together’ of the learning material and our presentation on Personal Branding we believe is relevant and in future we will drop the Personal Branding for other relevant learning material.

All other feedback has been extremely positive

The question now is what do we do next to bring about some positive changes in our educational system and to the business community, both of which can make major strides towards a better educated and experienced teaching staff as well a management of businesses in the country.

One suggestion was a forum for chatting afterwards.

So here is the forum!    My blogsite.

Welcome anyone and everyone to the future world of learning.  Your comments and your participation are required.   Let’s hear from you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Successful Distance Learning

Yesterday I made a presentation to the senior management team at Payserv on some of my experiences on EDCMOOC which I started in late January this year, was told it would be of five weeks duration and 3-5 hours a week, then found it was more like 20-25 hours a week and now in more in recent days I have discovered that although the course is officially over and I have achieved a 'pass' from my peers, it looks more like the course may never end! 

Well, perhaps that is what real learning is all about?

During the course of my EDCMOOC one of the subjects that we discussed in one of the threads to which I contributed, was the question of what makes a MOOCer and more fundamentally, what makes a successful MOOCer.

In 2010 I attended a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) with an organisation in the UK where I was required to learn a myriad of administrative policies, procedures and tasks.  I was alone inasmuch as anyone else who had attended the course was now long past completing it and qualified.  My mentor was 6,000 miles away and not all that easy to talk to.  One of the early statements I read from the organisers about the requirements of distance learning read as follows: -

"Successful distance learning, particularly on-line, requires the learner to have certain characteristics, in order to fully engage in the learning process.  These are academic and emotional maturity; specific gaols; the ability to work alone; the capacity for self starting; self understanding and self motivation; persistence, patience; self confidence; read and writing ability; contacts who can help with content problems; and an academic support system (at home and at work)".

On releflecting on these attributes and considering comments of my EDCMOOC 'threaders' I have some new thoughts about this broad statement of requirements.

My co-threader suggested that all these attributes were the requirements of anyone learning to do anything anywhere with or without a teacher, on-line or in the classroom.  Her thoughts made me think some more on the list.  I think she was largely correct but one thing I have learned over the years is that a good present teacher who can encourage her present learners and provide emotional support can help some learners overcome some of the attributes in the list.  

But distance learning, particularly on-line requires most definitely the following:   Specific goals; the ability to work alone; the capacity for self-starting, contacts who can help with content problems (co-threaders in our case); family support (my wife wondered if I was married to the Internet but refrained from mentioning it until much later).

Most importantly, on-line learners need to be persistent and patient.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My first MOOC is over!

It’s time to reflect on the last five weeks of my EDCMOOC with the University of Edinburgh.  I set out at the beginning to learn what a MOOC is, how it worked, what it could do for me and for others as a medium for learning.  I thought at the outset that the course “E-Learning and the Digital Space” would be appropriate if only because of my work at Payserv managing an E-learning tool for the staff.  

I was further motivated to take this particular course because of a recent experience in Johannesburg last November where I attended an E-learning conference titled “Café Africa” and hosted by LRMG – The Learning Resource and Management Group.  I found Café Africa to be a ‘different’ experience from other conferences that I have attended – different in its use of technology, different in the manner in which it was presented, different in the manner in which delegates responded.  

The most mind-blowing presentation was titled the SHEconomy and the presenter, Natalie Maroun, a young South African director of LRMG, was passionate about her ideas.   The world is changing, she told us, largely due to the advances in technology and specifically, the advances in the social media – Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, WhatsApp and many other media tools.   It is also changing because of changes to people – people today are better educated than yesteryear and women in particular have been elevated from being the housewives and mothers of the 1950’s to the bread-winners,  socialites and leaders of the 21st century.  No longer are women dependent on a husband, no longer are women unable to choose whether to have children or not.   So they have moved and are moving ever faster into the boardrooms of commerce and industry worldwide.

With all this in mind I started on my MOOC.  We were provided with resources on a weekly basis and asked to view, listen and read.  Some were You-Tube or Vimeo presentations, others were review documents or blogs from the – mostly – western world.

To begin with I was gobsmacked.  Part of my problem was the slow download speeds of my internet connection at home.  I upgraded with my service provider after the first week to a faster download speed and greater volumes.

But the real problem was the deluge of information to which I was being subjected.  The resources were one thing but the Discussion Forums – the threads that were being generated by 42,000 students worldwide were another entirely.  At the beginning, I made a vain effort to read them all.  From an estimated 3-5 hours per week, my workload escalated to 25-30 hours a week.

By Week Two I was a sleepless wreck.   But then it all changed – and for the better.

I found a discussion forum for the ‘Over 60’s’ and I settled in to getting involved with the other participants.  There were in all, about 30 of us from all over the world – the majority Americans, Australians and Brits, but there were others from South America, China and Europe. 

In Week Three I was invited to join a ‘Voice-Thread’ and although this made a further dent in my time management, it was the best thing that happened to me on the MOOC.  I found myself in a discussion forum with a dozen others – mostly in the USA, one from Australia, a couple from Europe.  Never having experienced a Voice Thread this was technologically different, and to begin with challenging.  The conversations are asynchronous – that is, they are recorded, saved and stored and viewed at a later time.  I did experience some technical difficulties for a period where I could only record my comments on the keyboard of my laptop but I overcame that and got involved with voice.   The attitude of all the people on the Voice Thread was one of cooperation.   All my colleagues were open about their fears and their thoughts.  It was a very satisfying new experience of almost magical proportions.

One major worry for me at the outset was the fact that at the end of the MOOC I was expected to present an ‘artefact’ to my peers.  Certain rules were applied to their submission –

·         it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
·         it will be easy to access and view online.
·         it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

And for the assessment criteria the requirements were: -

·         The artefact addresses one or more themes for the course
·         The artefact suggests that the author understands at least one key concept from the course
·         The artefact has something to say about digital education
·         The choice of media is appropriate for the message
·         The artefact stimulates a reaction in you, as its audience, e.g. emotion, thinking, action

I had no idea at all of how I was going to produce this artefact.   I had no experience of the various tools on the internet that we were advised were available – such things as Voicethread, Storify, Xtranormal, Pixton, Issuu, Storybird, Weebly, Animoto, Prezi, Wikispaces, TedEd, Google Sites. 

Not only did I lack experience of these tools, I’d never even heard of them!  The let out clause for me was ‘or any blog, web space or wiki site’

I had a look at Prezi, Storify and Issuu.  I registered on all three.  I played around a little.  I found Flickr.   I discovered how to move photographs from my mobile phone to my laptop and I posted some photographs on Flickr. I was in business!

In the meantime the learning progressed and being able to discuss ideas with my colleagues in the threads was a major motivational factor.

We attended two Google Hangouts with the teaching staff from Edinburgh.  While these were instructive they were not exactly ‘highlights’ in my MOOC experience.

By the time we got to the end of Week Three I had my artefact in draft and in our Over 60’s thread we were passing them around for review.  What a great way it was to learn more and to gain some confidence.

Posting the artefact to Edinburgh was, in the end, a simple process and then later reviewing the work of my peers was enjoyable but equally it was disappointing.  I was able to ‘pass’ one of my peers but not the other two who quite simply failed to meet the criteria laid down by Edinburgh.  I looked at two more artefacts and these were both very well presented.

Now at the end, I am just a little disappointed that it is all over.  Attending this EDCMOOC has been a most enjoyable, even exciting learning experience.  It is without doubt the most enjoyable learning experience of my life.  First because I have learned something new about humanity and the digital space, secondly because I have experienced an interaction between humanity (me and my colleagues on the threads) and the digital space.  I have discovered – although I probably knew it before but now it has been solidified in my mind and my being – that successful learning is about ‘fun’ and human interaction.   Take one of those away and there isn’t much chance of success.  Take them both away and there is no chance!

As for the MOOC.  Will I recommend it to others?  You bet I will.  Some constraints of course; the MOOC must be relevant to the learner – relevant to his or her work, or if not to work then to a lifetime goal; the learner must be able to devote the time – an estimated 3-5 hours a week is just not a correct estimate.  I could probably have managed on 3-5 hours a week without the human interaction.  But the human interaction is, as I have said before, essential.   I am willing to bet my boots that the two artefacts that I found inadequate were presented by people who did not interact.

Learning has undergone a revolution.  There are clearly hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people who are going to learn through the MOOC experience in the coming months and years.  Learning will never be the same again.  Educationalists are clearly endorsing the medium of the MOOC.  Those that don’t will cease to exist.  Not right now but eventually.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My EDCMOOC Artefact

My reason for being here is twofold.  Firstly I am here to learn about MOOCs, what they are, how they work, what value they have to the development of knowledge and perhaps skill, should I recommend them to others or not.  Secondly I want to ‘know more’ about ‘E-learning and the Digital Space’.  I had a view of that before I started this MOOC.  I have a different view now.  I have found the subject matter very interesting at times, at others a bit confusing.  I have been determined to contribute to the threads as I find it a way of connecting, however briefly, with other people with similar backgrounds and interests and consolidating what I have learned.  I have religiously written up my personal ‘Learning Log’ and made contributions to my blog for my own motivation and to enable others, if they are interested, to view my thoughts.

I have been constrained by my low digital literacy, particularly in the social media and by the alarmingly unresponsive speeds at which I have been able (or not able) to download material, particularly videos.

One of the most enjoyable subjects for me was the discussion between Clay Shirky[1] and Aaron Bady[2].  This was followed up with ‘Elite Education for the Masses’ from the Washington Post[3], the Crisis in Higher Education (Nicholas Carr)[4], Steve Fuller with his assertion that Homo Sapiens is an artificial creation[5] and finally in this same context, I read Steve Kolowich[6].

There were others – Digital Diploma Mills (Noble, D 1988), Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (Prensky, M 2001), The Human Touch (Monke, L (2004).

Perhaps the most riveting and mind-changing MOOC event for me was watching David Wiley on a TEDx video about the new Open Education and the Future.  Whatever views I may have had before, watching this video created a mindset for me that will take a lot to change.  I have, maybe forever, been infected by David's 'virus of the mind'

Somewhere amongst the other deluge of information I encountered on the dystopian and/or utopian effects of technology on humankind I came across the story of the ‘Stagecoach and the Railways’, and how the railways, in an effort, conscious or otherwise, to bring a sense of psychological comfort to their passengers undertaking journeys in this new technology, re-created the railway carriage in an image of the stagecoach.  I suspect this was an unconscious development.  It was simply the way things developed.  Later of course, the railways discovered that re-creating the stagecoach was not the most efficient or effective way of moving people.

It is not only the stagecoach and the railway carriage.  What about the passenger aeroplane?  Air conditioning systems?   Lifts (Elevators to you Americans) and escalators.   This kind of development has occurred throughout technological history.  One only has to look at how telephone technology has developed and the computer with its QWERTY keyboard is another most relevant example to us EDCMOOCers.

What is a MOOC today is modelled almost entirely on the educational system of the 20th century – which is the same system that has been in use since the 13th century – or thereabouts.  And we learned from Charles Ross through research conducted in the United Kingdom [7] of the anachronistic nature of the present system.  Which is of course arguable, and I’m sure there are some educationalists out there who will disagree vehemently with Charles Ross’ view.

For the moment it seems to me that MOOCs are the railway coach modelled on the stagecoach of the past.

[1] Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy., 12 November 2012.
[3] Anderson, N. (2012). Elite education for the masses. The Washington Post, 4 November 2012. 
[4] Carr, N. (2012). The Crisis in Higher Education. MIT Technology Review, (Compares MOOCs to Correspondence courses)
[5] Humanity 2.0: defining humanity - Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08
[6] Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed

[7] Charles Ross asserted the education system currently in use by all western nations was an anachronism unworthy of the 20th, let alone the 21st century.  It is based, he says, on the world as we used to know it in the middle ages.  It survives because educationalists have yet to develop another more acceptable model.  That they have failed to do so is an indictment of educationalists in general and will be the undoing of modern man unless we can somehow change the paradigm. (Ross, Charles  (1997)The Renaissance of Education.  The Computer Bulletin)

13th- 20th Century Education

Choose which photograph most accurately represents the MOOC 2013

The MOOC of the future?
Photographs courtesy of Heritage Zimbabwe, David Young and Wikipedia

What of the future?  Imogen Bertin, an IT Educator, writing in her MOOC Blog[1] on her reasons for quitting EDCMOOC presented some ideas on how this MOOC could change.  There are others on this MOOC – some full of complaints, others with suggestions and still others somewhere out in cyberspace making their contributions and there will be more.  Each contributor to the discussion will lend ideas and the MOOC we know today will develop, will change, will become more relevant to the present.

Will the MOOC consign the old stagecoach ways to disappear?     Not for a long time!  There are too many vested interests in the old ways, too many aspiring professionals who need the status of a stagecoach degree and too many employers who still demand them.

[1] Imogen Bertin, Confused of Cork, February 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

On "The Human Touch" by Lowell Monke

Very interesting, readable document. Monke could almost be classed as a Digital Luddite but he makes some very good points about the Human Touch or the lack of it. Some of his points can be easily argued but others I find far more difficult to do so.
A computer can inundate a child with mountains of information. However, all of this learning takes place the same way: through abstract symbols, decontextualized and cast on a two-dimensional screen. Contrast that with the way children come to know a tree–by peeling its bark, climbing its branches, sitting under its shade, jumping into its piled-up leaves. Just as important, these firsthand experiences are enveloped by feelings and associations–muscles being used, sun warming the skin, blossoms scenting the air.”
This is absolutely correct but I would argue that the same applies to the traditional classroom. Give me the two dimensional screen and the abstract symbols, then let me climb a tree, feel its bark, sit under its shade and I will learn well. He tells a story about the computer game, Oregon Trail. I don’t know it at all but I can imagine it from Monke’s description. Then Monke goes on to say:
"But this completely misses the deeper significance of this great American migration, which lies not in the computational capabilities of the pioneers but in their determination, courage, ingenuity, and faith as they overcame extreme conditions and their almost constant miscalculations. Because the computer cannot traffic in these deeply human qualities, the resilient souls of the pioneers are absent from the simulation".
I remember well my history teacher writing on my school report ‘He fritters away his time”. I did. The teacher was a total bore. He presented us with no evidence of determination, courage, ingenuity and faith of the people who made history. I was bored out of my mind. What would have brought some life to his teachings? Perhaps some technology would have helped. Today I thoroughly enjoy the excitement and the drama that I can watch and almost feel from the History Channel on DSTV. I think that the advantage of the teacher in the classroom is that students have the opportunity to question, to discuss, to explore more. But technology – e.g. the computer - no longer limits that possibility. It can be done though I do confess that on this MOOC it doesn’t happen much. So yes, the Human Touch is still important and for me, a digital immigrant, I find it difficult to impart it in some of my work. I am an External Verifier for an International certification body. I have 18 centres to look after in Africa and I do nearly all of my contact remotely through the medium of the laptop and the connectivity of the Internet. It is not easy to demonstrate the ‘Human Touch’ with the centre contacts, many of whom I have never met face to face. But I try to put ‘feelings’ into my communication with them. I wonder too, how leaders of the great and not so great nations of this world would be able to lead without their human touch and their communication skills. But even then, the Barrack Obama’s of this world rely very much on technology to spread their word. His final comment is where I think Monke misses the point:
Filling schools with computers will not help find the answers to why the freest nation in the world has the highest percentage of citizens behind bars or why the wealthiest nation in history condemns a sixth of its children to poverty. So it seems that we are faced with a remarkable irony: that in an age of increasing artificiality, children first need to sink their hands deeply into what is real; that in an age of light-speed communication, it is crucial that children take the time to develop their own inner voice; that in an age of incredibly powerful machines we must first teach our children how to use the incredible powers that lie deep within themselves.
I can’t be sure of the statistics but I would suggest that the prisons have always been far too full of citizens. I do know that Zimbabwe has run out of prison space and I suspect the same can be said of South Africa. This has been done largely without technology. Add to that in Africa (without technology) a far greater proportion of children are steeped in poverty than the 1/6th of the children in the USA. And I do believe that technology can help the children of Africa to learn.

On Steve Kolowich and the Human Element

An interesting read. One comment stands out for me
"For Hersh, engagement goes hand-in-hand with audio-visual communication. The more that exchanges occurring within an online learning environment resemble those that occur in classrooms, he says, the more that students will feel connected to their professors and classmates, and the more likely they will be to stay in a program”
This reminds me of the Stagecoach/Railway analysis where the early railways adopted a Stagecoach seating arrangement to give passengers a ‘feel’ for the old ways. Yet the Stagecoach seating arrangement on railways has disappeared for far more practical designs. We are still trying to get a feel for the old ways of doing things. We need to learn and adapt to the new. John Locke’s response resonates with me on this MOOC:
“when the instructor takes the time to actually call each student a week before the course starts, the rate of anxiety is greatly reduced and the student realizes that there is, in fact a caring, feeling person who is also an expert in his or her field on the other end of the connection”
I had a high degree of anxiety before I started this MOOC. It dissipated in the first week but has resurged now in week 3. I am hampered by slow internet speeds (I have been to my service provider yesterday to upgrade my ADSL speed but yet to see any better response times). I am stressed that I cannot speak to any faculty member at Edinburgh and I am relying on my fellow students for help. What is helping me to ‘stay engaged’? I recall two years ago I ‘attended’ a course on the ILM VLE (Institute of Leadership and Management Virtual Learning Environment). I found it very hard going. I was lonely. I was the only student at the time undertaking the learning. I made it through in the end because I hate starting something that I do not finish. On this MOOC I am working hard to stay engaged by reading the threads of my colleagues, by responding to them, by writing my personal ‘Learning Log’ (with thanks to Dr Peter Honey so many years ago who introduced me to such things and some others), and by writing up some of my thoughts on my ‘Learning Blog’ and getting the odd bit of feedback. All of this is most definitely part of the ‘Human Element’. Do I need audio-visual content? Not really.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Steve Fuller - Defining Humanity

What is ‘Homo Sapiens’. What was he in the days of the Greeks? What is he today? According to Steve Fuller, Homo Sapiens is an artificial creation. What makes him different from the Apes? (The ability to reason, says Descartes, is what distinguishes man from the apes) Fuller suggests man has been 'artificially' created by education where he has been ‘changed’ to portray certain traits and behaviours. (Is that not what all training is about – changing behaviour? I am reminded of 'Virus of the Mind' yet again). What makes a human ‘more human’? In the days of the Greeks and the Romans homo sapiens had his place as either an elite or a serf. Along came Christianity that told us we were ‘human’. Then we changed, we became concerned (or guilty perhaps?) about the distribution of wealth, of education. In the 18th century Africa was ‘colonised’ to bring Christianity (and education) to those humans that had neither. This was a response to the guilt. So what of the future? We have reached a stage where humanity ‘believes’ (has been educated to believe) that humankind is destroying the planet, that he has no place here. That he will make himself extinct. Humans are more concerned about animals than their own. And some people prefer to live in their other selves in cyberspace. Where is this taking homo sapiens? A Question posed by the Faculty: “He (Fuller) suggests that we are questioning the very existence of the ‘human’ because we have failed in the humanist project (for example, we are far from achieving racial, gender or class equality): do you believe this?” No I don’t believe this although my change in belief is recent. Last November I attended a conference in Johannesburg titled “Live and Unplugged”. One of the speakers, a South African woman, made a presentation titled ‘The SHEconomy’. She presented her ideas on the current and future of women in business. It was a staggering presentation of the rise of women in business suggesting that soon women will be the dominating influence. Her thesis was postulated largely on the emancipation of women due to the freedom they gained after the introduction of ‘The Pill’ – women no longer have to have children and when they do, today, they very often prefer to have them outside marriage. Then followed the Social Media revolution and women, being more socially adaptable then men, are, she suggests now better able to make better business decisions than men. She presented a lot of evidence to support her thesis. Women are even making rapid strides in politics and business in Africa where women have been far more stringently suppressed in recent times than in, say, Europe. In Asian countries we have also seen a definite attempt at improving the place of women within the Asian (and Muslim) versions of humanity. Turning to racial equality, I have lived through a revolution in the equalization of racial equality in Zimbabwe. Although there are still elements of inequality to be overcome largely because the black elite in Africa are seemingly more intent on suppressing the (black) masses than the previous colonisers. So ‘class equality’ in Africa has still a very long way to go. But that it will come is inevitable. The only question about it is when. As a last point in this blog, earlier this week I read about the ability of dogs to ‘reason’ following a research project in the United Kingdom. So being human is not confined to their ability to reason. Descartes got it wrong!

Friday, February 8, 2013

On Questioning Clay Shirky by Aaron Bady

This is an excellent response to Clay Shirky’s view that On-line Education is going to happen whether Universities like it or not. It is well thought through, easy to read and understand, albeit that it is a bit wordy. Bady seriously questions the value of the MOOC but he also misses some points mainly because he is talking only about the USA and California in particular. Here are some of my observations: - My organisation in Zimbabwe needs ‘Just-in-Time’ learning for many of the technical and non-technical staff we employ. We cannot afford THE TIME or THE MONEY to send them to a local university where the quality of education is, today, abysmal due largely to under-funding by government, the drift of qualified and experienced teaching staff to ‘greener pastures’ in the region, and indeed worldwide. We tried this once and sent a key member of staff to a local university on an MSc in Computer Science. He probably learned something but the evidence is not there for us to see. We spent money – and the much more needed resource – time – to help him learn. Right now we have completed an exercise in Risk Management development with an expensive consultant. Now we need a Risk Management Officer. We have a relatively junior member of staff who was involved in assisting the consultant. She has a high intrinsic motivation to learn to be a competent Risk Management Officer. She needs to learn the principles and the practice. How do we help her to learn? Sending her to University on an MSc in Risk Management is not an option. We need her working now. We cannot afford the time or the money. Do we ignore her and hire a qualified Risk Management expert? Or do we help this young lady to learn? We haven’t answered that question yet. We will have to answer it very soon and it will depend entirely on how, and at what cost and TIME we can afford her. I was intrigued by the comment to Bady's blog from Donald Scott: “Corporations would benefit from educated students, but what they want is trained students...the internet is wonderful for training” This comment was later rubbished by another respondee. But Scott’s comment is accurate in the sense that corporations need trained employees. It may not be so accurate in his assessment of ‘the internet is wonderful for training’. Nothing is FREE! Not even the MOOC. For me it is an expensive investment in my time. That I am learning is beyond question. But the question does remain how valuable is the learning to me as a ‘corporate mentor’? Hopefully this question will be answered in the next few weeks. Now here’s a lesson that I learned many years ago and still applies, even to Bady and his colleagues. ALL (and I use this word in spite of being warned against doing so by Bady) education and training is USELESS unless the learner is able and willing to apply some of the lessons to his work, his life, his family, whatever the purpose of the learning. If a learner simply learns from Yale, Harvard, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Ohio, University of Zimbabwe, wherever and then does not apply and practice the principles, he/she should have saved his/her money and spent it on something else – perhaps to climb Mount Everest or traverse the South Pole. The probability is that the seat of learning is unable to help the learner follow through. The learner has to do this. Not necessarily alone, but with the help of others. Many years ago I went on my first ‘Leadership Course’ and I learned many new ideas that I had never heard of before. I was enthused; I was motivated to change my behaviour. (Changing behaviour is essential if one is to learn anything of practical value). I returned to my workplace. I discussed my new ideas with the MD. He rejected them out of hand with a statement that when he was a young man, if he didn’t do what he was told, he was kicked in the a*se, and that was the way he managed things. My ideas were rejected out of hand. I had no opportunity to try them out, learn from my attempts, find out more. I left the organisation. I could afford to. I found another place to practice my ideas. Some worked, some didn’t. I learned from my experiences. That’s how people really learn. But back the argument for and against the MOOC principle. There may not be much value in the USA but here in Africa I can see many opportunities for many underfunded, underprivileged people. Yes, I do miss the opportunity to talk directly to the Faculty, but surprisingly, or perhaps not, I am learning from my colleagues, from the threads, the blogs and the tweets and if I want to talk somebody about the MOOC, I can!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Technology Is the Answer – What was the Question? Professor Daniel

This is a fairly balanced paper which sets out to convince us that technology will answer the needs of education – the needs being access, quality and cost. How can more people receive a quality education at a lower cost? Daniel asserts that using technology is the answer. And he would seem to be right by virtue of the rise of the MOOC. But how much quality do we get from the MOOC? I read a blog yesterday that suggested this MOOC had been well prepared, planned and presented but the blogger had been on another MOOC that was obviously vastly different. So there are MOOCs and there are MOOCs. But there is no doubt in my mind that technology can assist in lowering costs in education/learning. Here’s a simple example: Yesterday my Payserv team undertook a ‘Finance for Non-Financial Managers’ course. We used the FD and another member of his staff to present the learning; we were given exercises to do. But prior to attending the course we were provided with an URL to access in which we could learn the definitions of various financial and book-keeping terms so that when we arrived we knew these. This was time saving and therefore cost saving.

Of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

I have been reading David Noble's paper - "Digital Diploma Mills". He writes about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. I am definitely a Digital Immigrant although I have been able to migrate reasonably well. Perhaps writing this Blog is part of my Immigrant culture – I need to write to consolidate what I have learned. At Payserv we have some Digital Natives. I sit next to one who cannot stop messaging on her phone. It seems it is just part of her culture. But is she working? Is she learning? I somehow doubt it. We have another DN in the organisation – a brilliant young lady. I must run Marc Prensky’s ideas past her. She has learned substantially during her year with us. How has she learned what she has learned? Some of it has been by ‘attending’ our E-learning software programs but she has got bored with those (generated by Digital Immigrants). Mainly she learns by doing. Time to find out more from her. Is Mark Prensky ‘right’? Partly, perhaps. But is he just trying to promote his ‘learning game’ ideas and his business? Probably. I’m not convinced of his thesis. I need to see confirmation from other sources. I recognise that DN’s have been brought up differently – my grandson and I exchange mail messages on WhatsApp while he is doing his homework – but how do the DN’s learn to behave, how do they learn to lead others, how do they learn Emotional Competency? Probably just the same way we did – by observing, by copying, by practicing. David Noble would seem to be a latter day Luddite. Perhaps we could call him a Digital Luddite. I note that his paper was written in 1998 so a lot of water has passed under the bridge since his offering. He has this fixation that anyone who does anything about educating others, other than his red brick University is ‘peddling’ (illegally selling) their wares. That is indication enough that he is prejudiced. He uses the word several times in his paper. He thinks that students are on his side. While some of them may be, it certainly doesn’t apply to 2,000 (or is 42,000) students on this MOOC. He asserts that campus students outnumber distance students by 6:1. That may have been true in 1998 but it is surely not the case in 2013 where the numbers could well be reversed. He makes the extraordinary statement “ Last but not least, behind this effort are the ubiquitous technozealots who simply view computers as the panacea for everything, because they like to play with them” Some digital teachers and learners will take umbrage at this! One factor that he has overlooked is that no matter how education may be ‘peddled’ around the world, there will always be a need for professional coaches and mentors who can be looked upon to provide their education and experience to help digital learners wherever they may be. As an example of a successful E-learning programme in 2008 Paynet Zimbabwe, a company in the EDI/EFT business realised their urgent need for additional software developers to develop and maintain their systems. The new developers would need special skills. Paynet is a very small company. They had no teachers or trainers to develop new people that the market was unable to provide. So we launched a programme which we named “LIPZ” (Learning Initiative Programme for Paynet Zimbabwe). We took the view that we had no teachers but we could provide mentors. We had no reference books, no learning programmes. We created learning objectives that we needed our trainee developers to achieve. We provided them with some tools (PC, access to the Internet and access to a suite of E-Learning Programmes provided by Skillsoft). We told them to then learn using these tools and each week we mentored their progress. We needed more than simple systems development skills; we needed them to develop sound communication skills, business skills, project management skills and emotional competencies. In less than 12 months we achieved our objective – to bring in new developers to take over the testing and maintenance functions of our systems while the senior developers were enabled to focus on new software developments.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Google Hangout

It’s come and gone. For me it was hard work. Internet speed very slow and constant freezing taking place interspersed with conversation from the presenters. But impressive presenters who gave their all to a new concept not only for us but probably for them too. I have a question for Jeremy in particular and the faculty in general: “Is E-learning seen to be all about learning off the internet/Skype/twitter/blogs or is it something more?" One of the reasons I joined this MOOC is because I manage an E-learning system at Payserv, a company in Zimbabwe that provides Financial Institutions with EDI and EFT systems as well as running other technical services – a payroll bureau and a loan management system. We have an E-learning system installed on our server provided by a South African supplier and have access to technical and soft skills courses that are relevant to the business. One issue with it is the RTC factor, an issue that arises for a number of reasons – it is not a traditional method of learning. There are other reasons to be here. I mentor many of the staff, helping them to identify and pursue learning opportunities that will provide them with knowledge and skills for their personal growth and qualifications that will meet the demands of their CVs. That there are MOOCs available in many areas means a great deal to me and possibly to them – if they can be persuaded to engage in the real educational change opportunities that MOOCs will surely come to provide in the near future if they do not already do so. So I need to learn about MOOCs and how they work and what kind of learning value they can provide. I see the future of learning being a predominantly E-future. Universities have to adjust – Edinburgh is clearly anticipating a changed future which is why they are here and experimenting with the rest of us. So back to my question. Will someone please answer me?

Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology - Lincoln Dahlberg

This was a tough one to follow but I think I made it in the end inasmuch as I have learned that research into the ‘Digital Space’ needs to be more complex than it has been hitherto – according to Lincoln Dahlberg in any event. But other things I learned were the questions for the future: - Who ‘owns’ the Internet? Is it a tool of the rich and powerful capitalistic economies? Is it going to determine our collective futures? How can it be controlled? Should it be controlled? What happens if it grows – like New Media have suggested it will grow – into a mean people eater? Will it help mankind to develop for the better or will it replace people and eventually destroy mankind?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Watched ‘Thursday’. Good news – took me only 30 minutes to download and view this animation. Depicts a blackbird and family and the human race. The blackbird is constantly thwarted by technology so takes a swipe at it and blacks out the city by splicing some wiring which it then uses for its nest. The humans seem to be dependent on technology – computers, mobile phones, street cleaning machines, even simple things like clothes and an alarm clock. The birds have no such dependency. When faced with technology it messes up their lives. One fledgling bird flies into a window and although not killed, is briefly stunned. Then off it flies with the family. The humans need technology to do what the birds can do. Question from the teaching staff: "Who has ‘agency’ in the clip?" I’m not sure what they mean by ‘agency’ but if we are looking at ‘utopia’ or ‘dystopia’ it’s a bit of both – the birds don’t need technology, the humans do, but given technology the humans can do what the birds do – they can ‘fly’ - in a machine of course - on Thursdays at 2 for the price of 1! Main moral is that humans have become technology dependent. But is that a bad thing? It’s the way things are. Graham ( my son) who makes a living from technology would disagree. He thinks technology has ruined the human world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It is 5.:00 am. I watch “INBOX”. Two young Indians make contact through ‘carry-bags’ inadvertently switched in a store where they bought separate personal purchases. The carry bags are ‘magic’ and turn into a representation of laptops that can create e-mail/chat exchanges. All is fine while the ‘technology’ works but when one of them – the male – in excitement breaks his carry-box the contact breaks down. Message to me is that technology is a wonderful tool for making emotional contact with others but only when it works properly. When it doesn’t work it is a curse. The good news of this clip is that the two eventually find each other without the aid of technology and re-create their relationship. Other good news about this is that this morning it only took me 15 minutes to download this 9 minute clip – so that’s a good sign too! I get through this in 30 minutes flat! Technology is utopia when it works, dystopia when it breaks (or like my painfully slow downloads, doesn't work like it should)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Watched The Bendito machine this morning. Took me 1.5 hours to download a 7 minute video clip from the internet. Moral of the Bendito Machine is, perhaps, that we worship technology until a new one, even though it doesn’t work as well as we hope, comes along, then we throw the old onto the scrap heap just when it is working the way it should. This is technology dystopia. What’s the next technology? You can be sure its coming, that it won't work very well (just like my 1.5 hours of download for a 7 minute clip)
Today I started my attempts to learn more about e-learning and the Digital Space. Well, I started 10 days ago actually with my first couple of tweets having enrolled on a "MOOC" some six weeks ago. I am like a fish out of water at present and with all the work I have at Payserv and ILM I now have to fit in some time to deal with this. That I will learn something is for sure, but just how much will depend on two things - (1) the time I can make to deal with it and (2) the speed of the Internet here in Zimbabwe. So the journey begins. More time to be spent tonight/early tomorrow before the sun comes up.