12 October 2007

Looking Back, Moving Forward

image: Dave Girling

Well, our LearnScope journey has come to an end, but is the real journey just beginning? Let's take a moment to look back to see where we have been and how what we have learned might help us move forward.

The aim of this LearnScope program was for managers of RTOs across NSW and, in this case a Northern Territorian, to gain an understanding of e-Learning, emerging trends and specific management issues relating to e-learning. To achieve this, individuals were to form a learning community sharing a 10 week facilitated face-to-face and online journey through a range of activities and discussions around e-Learning.

We started off on 3 August with a face-to-face induction. Almost a full quorum, lots of enthusiasm and a great opportunity for us to meet each other, to put faces to names. And perhaps to sort out whether this was a journey each of us wanted to take. There was an introduction to the communication tools we would be using - the blog, the wiki and Adobe Acrobat Connect, our virtual conferencing software. Robyn Jay, NSW LearnScope Manager, played a major role outlining the different support available through NSW LearnScope and introducing participants to its wiki and blog maintained by both Robyn and Alex Hayes.

The emails started, the wiki was established and the blog was ready to go! And so, the online meetings began.

For our first session we took the time to have a look at implementation strategies with Clint Smith. Clint introduced us to the outstanding Framework resource - Designing e-Learning which covers strategies, design and assessment.

Sadly we experienced the woes of many an online learner - technology not doing what we wanted it to do! Clint's ppt took on a life of its own and we had Jeremy and Marguerite struggling to join us over dial-up connections. We did find the time however, to have a closer look at blogging and wikis so that reflection and collaboration could begin. And thank goodness for recordings so those not able to participate could do so in their own time.

Next came Michael Coghlan who discussed emerging trends and issues in our second session. Networking and connecting are definitely on the radar, but not at the expense of some of what we already know. We discussed the need for options to be available and the delivery blended to maximise learning. And what about those firewalls! Should we be censoring sites or helping students to learn how to protect themselves?

For our third session, we had the privilege of having Nigel Paine joining us to explore leadership and e-learning, followed by an afternoon session with Jo Kay who introduced us to Second Life. Wow - what a buzz that day was! Jo took us into a whole new world for us to learn and play - mind boggling - and Nigel made it all sound so easy. Both great presentations.

Mobile Technologies was a special agenda item provided for us by Alex Hayes, who just never stops! Alex talked to us about the evolution of mobile technologies and drew together the stories of how mobile technologies are being used from practitioners from all over the world. Now SMS and mobiles really are the domain of the 'Net Gen', our younger students, and fast becoming that of more mature students. Go on, how many of us (grandparents included) text our children and grandchildren frequently! Even the ATO has cottoned on to using SMS with one participant sharing how they got an SMS reminding them that their tax was due by the end of this month - can you believe that!

Mary Schooneveldt reminded us of learner needs and the barriers to learning online in our sixth session. Certainly e-learning is breaking down many of the barriers that prevented participation previously for many different groups of learners, and because of e-learning I am able to continue to be a member of the workforce and still be available as a f/time carer in my home.

Our last session was with Vicki Marchant who discussed with us the skills, issues and considerations related to staffing for e-learning. Some great discussion brought together many of the things we have discussed over the weeks with a focus on the providers!

All these sessions are recorded and available at on our Wiki Program.

So, did we achieve our aim?

Certainly the feedback from our last session where we took the time to reflect together, suggested that much was gained with exposure to a range of tools and strategies and possibilities being the most significant learning for most. Jeremy noted that he had "gained a whole new vocabulary; each word connected to a concept. I've managed to penetrate the surface." Knowing where to find resources was another gain! For most it has been a starting point and all agreed that forming friendships online and developing networks is important.

But, it is hard to meet everyone's expectations. Some wanted more on the 'tools' themselves, and others wanted to be even more strategic. From my perspective, and from some feedback received, the discussion and interaction between meetings was not achieved. Disappointing for those who wanted to engage more and explore some topics a little deeper. I will admit to moments of despair but from experience I know that silence doesn't mean learning isn't happening. It could just be that much richer if there was more time to share ideas, to challenge perspectives, to interact!!

Managers have a lot of priorities and their own learning often slips to last place as they deal with the day-to-day unexpected events, so certainly I understood the issue of 'time'. It is most unlikely also, that a new group will embark on discussion and open reflection until an amount of 'trust' is developed. This takes time. So, the lack of interaction between meetings was not all that unexpected. If this was an enrolled course however, activities would have been developed to complete tasks together, perhaps as buddies or teams, and the expectations would have been different. Reflection and collaboration would most definitely have been expected but I am confident that this will happen.

Of course technology was a frustration to many. For dial-up connections it made participation almost impossible - a definite barrier! Also, there was a feeling of losing the 'connection to the faces' from the induction day. Suggestions such as posting pictures, using webcams, or time to share work experiences could have overcome this. More time to actually talk and discuss during the online meetings might have helped. All great tips.

I was delighted to hear that incidental learning has taken place. While our focus was not the tools, my strategy was to use some 'tools' that I felt might be useful in the workplace, to expose participants to them. Remember, to have the time to learn you need to make life easier for yourself - reduce that email, navigate sites of interest better. RSS will do that so if you haven't had time yet, it is never too late.

Our wiki was not very collaborative. Most contributions were by me. This wiki will remain however, and can continue to have a life if you allow it to do so. YOU can contribute to it, use it as a resource and keep building it. It is a starting point at least.


And so, the next stage of the journey is just beginning. It is now over to you as a Manager of e-Learning to keep moving forward on the road ahead - Good Luck!.

Staffing for e-Learning

From Presentation by Vicki Marchant, Manager - Teaching and Learning Initiatives, TAFE NSW - Illawarra Institute.

Vicki explored the role of Managers in supporting staff implementing e-learning as well as the different skill sets required of managers, support staff and facilitators.

Some of the key points discussed included -

  • the need to critically evaluate eLearning;
  • the importance of time - managers need to allocate time for themselves and their staff to explore and discuss and to acknowledge different cultural perspectives/attitudes to time;
  • Network, network, network for learning and understanding;
  • IT support for students as well as staff is critical but not yet happening - what's the answer?
  • Patience, perseverence and a willingness to share and be flexible are critical for a facilitator of e-learning;
  • Co-facilitation makes a difference - a great learning strategy for developing online facilitation skills and techniques;
  • Innovation is best when embedded, and an element of risk supports innovation;
    A strategic approach is critical;
  • Systems and tools need to underpin and enable e-learning;
  • re-use, re-purpose, share rather than start from scratch;
  • e-Learning = Learning - should be integrated into a blended approach and it will become ubiquitous;
  • Modelling by managers works, but also modelling by colleagues.

Certainly one of the pertinent points, I believe, is accepting and supporting 'a different way of working' for e-learning teachers. Do they need to be in an office at the institution or can they do it from home, or from the beach, or wherever? Do you need to be able to 'see' them doing their work? Staff could be facilitating online subjects anywhere in QLD, Australia, or indeed, overseas. This requires 'trust' and opens up so many wonderful possibilities. Timetabling could become more flexible, or challenging!

George Siemens says that a key role of managers is to 'remove the barriers' so that staff can do their jobs. (Siemens interview (October 2006) recorded by Parker, TAFE NSW – Illawarra Institute. Not always easy, eg ICT firewalls, but certainly understanding the issues and working with the different stakeholders is essential.

What do you think is the key role of Managers of e-Learning?

    01 October 2007

    e-Learning: Learner Needs and Barriers

    “Inclusivity in education starts with the recognition of our diversity. It is treating students as individuals rather than as an homogeneous group. It is about involving all students in classroom practices by valuing their uniqueness and what they bring to the classroom. It is about valuing their interests, experiences, abilities, insights, needs, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, learning styles and intelligences.” (The Inclusivity Challenge http://www.decs.act.gov.au/publicat/pdf/InclusivityReport.pdf 3 May 2007)

    Mary Schooneveldt, who implemented and managed the national Inclusive e-Learning Project for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework from 2005 – 2007 , spoke to us last week on this very critical subject. Afterall, that's what flexible learning is meant to be about isn't it? Providing options so that everyone has an opportunity to learn whether they have a disability, live in a remote location, are Indigenous or have an ethnic background, are mature-aged or youth at risk, or indeed, whether life's circumstances of whatever kind prevent attending mainstream face-to-face classes. E-learning has opened up new opportunities for so many to engage in education.

    Sadly though, the stats still aren't good. There is still so much more to do so that nobody is peering in through a locked gate.

    You can check out some case studies and find out more at

    Image: Lost in Seattle

    28 September 2007

    Union using Second Life

    Terry Lawler, our NT participant, has just forwarded this article on IBM employees using Second Life to protest. And we're just starting to talk about it (it is IBM mind you) but perhaps this is a sign of how protests will be done here in Australia in the future ? Keep watching ...


    "More than 1’850 -real- people protested behind their computers in over 30 countries to show solidarity with IBM Italy workers. The protest took place at 7 IBM locations, and in particular at IBM Italia and the IBM Business Centre in Second Life. Many Italian IBM workers joined the event after work, from 7pm to 10pm Rome, Italy time.

    It was reported that Second Life was having some technical difficulties, which is why we believe we could have reached an even higher number of participants.

    IBM did not officially react to our protest so far. However, they did shut down parts of their Business Centre to visitors (or really, protesters). A number of participants managed to crash an IBM staff meeting during the afternoon - where they were immediately asked to leave and to "protest outside". Instead, they demanded to speak to Management. But the staff meeting, which seemed to be about the new IBM website functionalities, was called to an end.

    The media coverage for this event was impressive. The news about the protest was covered by blogs, radio and TV stations, newspapers and podcasts in numerous countries. Italy's
    national TV station highlighted the event in the evening news during 5 minutes, showing screenshots from Second Life and its almost 2’000 protesters.

    More information about this historical protest will come in the next days."

    26 September 2007

    Innovate and Integrate

    This report is a 'must read' for any organisation or individual wanting to pursue and embed innovative practice. And there are practical tools to support you.

    Carol McCullogh is bringing introductory workshops to all States and Territories on behalf of the Framework so watch out for the dates for your workshop.

    Marie Jasinski is well known throughout the VET community in Australia, as well as internationally, for her innovative practice. I, and many others, have learned so much from her over the years and I personally want to thank Marie for yet another outstanding contribution to VET and the wider education community.

    Mobile Technologies for Learning

    Last week Alex Hayes, NSW LearnScope Project Officer, innovator, occasional philosopher and artist, and probably much more (my descriptives and not necessarily Alex's) inspired us with his presentation on Mobile Technologies.
    Alex took us through the last two years of the evolution of m-Learning referring to 'the romantic' definition -

    “… M-learning is the exciting art of using mobile technologies to enhance the learning experience. Mobile phones, PDAs, Pocket PCs and the Internet can be blended to engage and motivate learners, any time and anywhere. …” (m-learning.org : accessed 22 August 2007)

    What was particularly inspiring was how Alex invited users of m-Learning to tell their story with their responses forming the core of the presentation. Responses were international, from the different education sectors, from managers and practitioners, from teachers of literacy and the trades. One response which hit home for me was Graeme Wegner's (Primary School Teacher, e-learning coordinator and edu-blogger):

    "M-learning is something that students are doing with or without their teachers. Only if we decide to get involved can we have any impact on that learning. Education can no longer afford to ignore the impact mobile technology has on our students and their lives. If we ask them to switch it off, then we turn off the relevance to the rest of their life………”
    Becoming a better e-learning manager and a better leader

    Following Nigel's presentation and the Second Life presentation a couple of things came to mind.

    Firstly the capability of our managers overall, not just in the e-learning field.
    Secondly, who has the time in their busy schedules to sit down and operate a second life when the one I operate in seems like only a half life.

    It's a bit like a half life frog on a log . He wants to get to the end and jumps half the distance each time but he never quite gets there!
    Second Life looks great for people who have the time and technical expertise. The technical requirements are restricting though, my budget and my time is also limited. When it comes to priorities my family's needs are up the top. These include their school, sporting and socialising activities - away from the computer. Obesity is growing - pardon the pun!

    I read through Nigel's list of Do's and Dont's and asked myself the question about what are the barriers for e-learning managers. One is recognising that you need the technical competence to actually do what you want others to do. Managers need to in this day and age to lead by example or identify those that can share the lead.

    From the list of do's and dont's I worked out that there is an assumption that managers have the capacity to reflect and respond appropriately and show wisdom, experience and professionlism on leadership issues or situations raised in their workplaces. This assumption is wrong.

    Too often in my working life I have witnessed the promotion of people into higher level positions where they are required to manage others. These individuals are often very good at their specific job ( but not always) however they are very poor people managers with limited professional skills in mediation, conflict resolution or organisational skills. They don't have what it takes to effectively manage others and we wonder why gen Y are so challenging?

    The end result is that productive work is reduced because of the energies wasted on responding or reacting to or in some instances actively obstructing progress because of the manager's obvious limitations.

    I believe that there is limited investment Australia wide in the development of leadership and "people" skills within our organisations. Research and development suffers from the same deficiency.

    One of the key emerging issues that presents as a barrier to managers in e-learning is that the 'y" generation do not and will not accept this lack of professionalism in human resource management .

    This is evident in the way that they now 'choose' where and what they want to learn and who they want to work for. Money is not the answer to attracting and keeping gen Y engaged. Their parents ( the collective us) have drummed into them that it is OK to challenge and ask for a better deal.

    Well we set up their expectations and have not delivered the goods. It's time for a change.
    I took the photo above at the Rally against the National Intervention in the NT. The white paint is a sign of mourning and of loss.
    Leadership on the national scale has abandoned consultation and negotiation in favour of "emergency intervention"
    What will tomorrows leaders do with this style of role modelling?