Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Posts tagged ‘professional learning’

DEANZ Conference 2012 reflections

DEANZ 2012 logoAnd so the DEANZ Conference has come to a close. It has been both refreshing and enriching having three days out of the office to be immersed entirely in the world of distance learning. Events such as this are a wonderful celebration of distance learning and show that, although we all work for different organisations, we share a common goal: quality education that is accessible for all learners. So many of the sessions I attended reflected my own experience of distance learning and teaching; so much so that I sometimes wondered if the presenters were actually talking about my work! One of the many things I love about distance education is that it can occur anywhere and at any time, that is, access to learning is not dependent on location or a particular timetable. It certainly makes sense in today’s increasingly busy society.

For me, the biggest highlight of this conference (and most conferences) was the opportunity to engage and interact with so many others working in the same field. I enjoyed meeting many people whom I have ‘worked with’ or encountered virtually over the years. I also enjoyed catching up with current and past colleagues, former managers and chief executives, students (former and current) and those who taught me back in my teacher training and university days. The education community is a rich tapestry and I am thrilled that my professional learning network is continually growing.

A big thank you to the organising committee for making this event happen. I look forward to continuing our professional conversations in the days/weeks/months/years to come. 🙂


Becoming a 21st century school

This afternoon’s DEANZ Conference keynote was delivered virtually via video link from Tuscon, Arizona – truly modelling distance learning. Ken Kay from EdLeader21 gave a presentation entitled The 7 steps to become a 21st century school. There is much that tertiary education can learn from the schooling sector and these ideas easily apply to all levels of learning – we all face the same challenges.

What is 21st century education?

We’re already 12 years into the 21st century, but it seems like we are still trying to define what education in this century is all about. Ken pointed us to a framework on the P21 website. He talked about blending the 3Rs with the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. These are otherwise known as student outcomes, or attributes that students should aspire to, and these also need to be demonstrated by teachers as models for effective pedagogy. The 4Cs very much reflect the key competencies that support the New Zealand Curriculum.

21st century student outcomes

What are the 7 steps for implementation?

Embracing the 4Cs in principle or rhetorically is not enough to make them work. This is where an implementation strategy is necessary and Ken introduced the 7 steps model before unpacking each step in detail.

7 steps modelKen challenged us to go home and complete the MILE Guide self assessment survey and find out which elements of our practice are from the 19th, 20th or 21st century. Gulp!

I was interested to hear Ken’s thoughts about how professionals should be using the 4Cs in their own practice (and not just for teaching students). He argues that the 4Cs can and should be used as a measure for hiring, compensation, evaluation and promotion.

Ken concluded his virtual keynote by sharing a video called The 4Cs: Making 21st century learning happen, featuring student and teacher voices.

DEANZ Conference 2012

DEANZ 2012 logoA group of colleagues and I are attending the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) Conference this week. The day’s proceedings began with mihi whakatau with Open Polytechnic (as tangata whenua) welcoming the manuhiri (guests) to the conference. It is good to be able to make use of the wireless internet here at the venue by tweeting and blogging from the event. You can follow updates via the Twitter hashtag #DEANZ2012.

The opening keynote address was given by Professor Paul Bacsich, who we hosted at Open Polytechnic last week. Paul continued talking about his research into models for virtual schools and colleges (VISCED) and shared three institutions who are considered successful: Sofia Distans in Sweden, Interhigh in Wales and Brisbane School of Distance Education in Australia. He has generated a list of ‘Multeversity features’ for universities and tertiary institutions in the future, including bridging into and from upper secondary school learning to reduce the drop-out while still leveraging school-level knowledge. As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make connections with learners’ prior learning and experience and it would be good to see mechanisms in place to support this in the tertiary sector.

Professor Niki Davis and colleagues gave an invited presentation entitled A scenario guide to effective tertiary education for New Zealand in 2016. Four scenarios were unpacked: articulation, the ‘supermarket’, quality branded consortia and self-determination. Each has its benefits and limitations and ultimately the exercise is about maximising the overlap and relationships between the four quadrants to provide the most effective learning solutions. Coming from a background in “self-determination”-styled learning as a primary e-teacher, I would love to explore strategies that would enable this approach in the tertiary learning environment.

I will continue to blog and tweet throughout the conference … or for as long as my laptop battery lasts. 🙂

Courses are dead

I love that title! 😀

I have been reading and re-reading parts of Informal Learning by Jay Cross. Naturally, a heading such as Courses are dead is going to be provocative, partly because it is such a blanket statement, but also because there is an element of truth in it. Cross is referring to courses as the solution to corporate training, often simplistically seen as an easy way to upskill staff and meet learning needs in one go.

When I first started teaching by distance, I attended a full day training workshop about the technicalities of using Blackboard as a learning management system. Making the move from classroom teaching to online distance learning was a challenge I was both anxious and excited about. However, I became increasingly uneasy during the training day when learning was referred to as ‘developing a course’. I was going to be teaching Y3-4 students; they don’t take courses! It became clearer that course was the technical term used to describe whatever we were teaching. It took several years of using different terminology, namely programme of learning, to start seeing a shift in how staff thought about their teaching and, as a result, their students’ learning.

Pill bottle imageThis year, the New Zealand tertiary education sector is charged with the task of embedding literacy and numeracy strategies into all level 1-3 courses. Embedding explicitly involves not sending students off to complete an external course then come back with their learning needs ‘fixed’, leaving them ready for the ‘real’ learning they are enrolled for. True, they are invariably still participating in a course of learning, but hopefully the embedding strategy will help address students’ learning needs in a more holistic manner rather than ‘popping a learning pill’ of sorts.

I believe the same concept applies for professional learning in the workplace. Expecting staff to attend a series of courses pre-determined by management might not be the best way to address individual or personalised learning needs, nor recognise prior learning and experience. Establishing a baseline of essential knowledge and skills for all staff to demonstrate can be a helpful way to approach professional learning as long as there is enough flexibility to be able to effectively customise elements of the programme. I am in the process of developing a professional learning programme that is online and modular, with components that are interchangeable and based on an inquiry based learning approach. The framework consists of modules from six strands and is grounded in reflective practice. It’s early days yet, but it is very exciting developing a model which I believe will explore in depth and strengthen the fundamental knowledge and skills required for successfully teaching in our learning environment. Watch this space!

Training vs professional learning

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Red rose animationOr so the saying goes. However, I am a strong believer in the power of words and see that names, titles and labels can be incredibly important. A single word or phrase can bring up connotations that are either completely appropriate, 100% inaccurate, or somewhere in between. Sometimes words are synonymous with another; other times, words are used interchangeably when one is actually a subset of another or in reality bears little correlation whatsoever. It’s like calling a rose a dandelion just because they are both flowers. That’s close enough, right?

Professional learning

I work in the field of professional learning for tertiary educators. Not training, not professional development, but professional learning. In fact, although I am passionate about learning, training or being trained holds little appeal to me. I love working with professionals to facilitate and co-construct learning. It’s an exciting area to be working in.

To me, the role of training is to provide specific knowledge, skills and competencies in a specialised field. There is little variance in content and the learning outcomes are very tightly defined. Training is likely to be both pre-service and ongoing; a substantial amount of training of this type also occurs on the job.

Training is extremely important in, for example, technically-based professions. After all, we’d want to know that the person fixing the aeroplane we fly in is highly trained in their specialist subject: aircraft repair. More specifically, I’d want them to know great amounts of detail about the exact aircraft they were repairing, while having the practical skills  and competencies required for the job as well as a general understanding of the principles relating to aircraft repair, mechanics and so on. Here, training is vital.

So what about professional learning in the workplace, then? Isn’t it important that everyone in a similar role knows how to do their job within the scope of an organisation’s way of working. Of course it is, to a certain extent, but there is so much more to it. This is where professional learning comes in.

This diagram is how I see the relationship between professional learning, professional development and training in its simplest form:

Professional learning diagramThere are times when it may be appropriate to skew the size of each circle in relation to the purpose for learning and outcomes desired. Sometimes learning needs to be highly focused on a particular area or involve specialised skill development; that’s really important. However, for the most part, I prefer to see training as a subset of professional development which, in turn, is a subset of the wider concept of professional learning.


Jay Cross states in Informal Learning: “It should come as no surprise that workers don’t like training. Most training is built on the pessimistic assumption that trainees are deficient. Training is the cure for what’s broken. Consequences include:

  • negative reinforcement (correct what’s wrong, take the test, do this or else) instead of positive (great job!)
  • unmotivated learners (who wants to accept that they are inadequate?)
  • learner disengagement, unrewarded curiosity, spurned creativity (because the faculty implies, “my way or the highway”)
  • training (we do it to you) instead of learning (co-creation of knowledge)
  • focus on fixing the individual rather than optimizing the team (because the individual trainee will submit to being fixed but the organization is reluctant to join in group therapy).” (Cross, 2007, p. 96)

Some of these are statements are very heavy handed, although I do agree with most of them. The two that ring most true for me are the first and fourth points. By its very association of ‘jugs to mugs’ (fill ’em up!), training is often based on a deficit model consisting of an assumption that there is something wrong or missing (a needs analysis will often show this) and needs to be fixed. Input training and output the solution? Not so simple. The fourth points suggests a very top-down approach: “we do it to you” leaves the learner little control of their learning, resulting in low levels of empowerment and even less autonomy in their overall and ongoing professional development.

Learner autonomy

So what is the distinction between professional development and professional learning, then? For me, it’s about learner autonomy; professional development usually involves decisions made by others on an employee’s behalf (management, a curriculum or syllabus, industry standards etc). It has a valid place in the wider scheme of professional learning and might include some aspects of training, but is not the be all and end all of a professional’s ongoing development. Quality professional learning should offer opportunities and synergies in all three areas depending on the needs of the learners and the goals of organisation or industry they work in.

Cross, J. (2007). Informal learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Experiential learning

Ever since I participated in a three-day workshop about inquiry based learning with Lane Clark back in 2001, I have kept her words in my head: “Are we educating our children for our past or their future?” As I spend more time pondering the relationship between formal and informal professional learning, I try to keep in mind what is essential, what is desirable, and what is probably unnecessary in the programmes we develop. We take care to unpack and differentiate between the phrases ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’ learning, but I can’t help but wonder where all the ‘just in case’ learning goes at the end of a programme or course. Two key thoughts arise for me:

  1. Just by describing a skill or competency as essential, we automatically make this a priority. But does this mean it needs to be taught via  a formal presentation or workshop before learning that is deemed desirable, or can learners participate when they are ready for this experience?
  2. What is the most effective way to cement essential learning and ensure that it makes it into our teaching practice?

I believe that in order for effective, long term learning to take place, learners need to be able to experience, experiment, fall back, fall forwards, pick themselves up and try again. It is a natural instinct to learn this way when we are young but rarely makes it into the realm of adult professional learning. Why is this? What is it about an experiential learning approach that is deemed less favourable for teaching educators essential skills and competencies relating to their teaching practice?

Babies and young children are the ultimate experiential learners, always figuring things out on the job. They don’t stick to a formal learning program. We have basic learning objectives and desired outcomes for them (walk, talk, etc) but they are not aware of our agenda; they probably wouldn’t care if they knew, anyway. Parents support their babies’ learning as they figure out each vital stage in their development, but ultimately they work out how to sit up, pull themselves up, experiment with sounds, start taking tentative steps, and do things when they are ready. A pre-designed plan doesn’t come into it, yet the outcomes are usually quite successful with long-lasting results.

Early childhood teachers recognise children’s natural tendencies for experiential learning and have used these concepts as a basis for the ECE curriculum. A good teacher recognises the value in finding out what their learners are currently able to do, knowing where they what their student to end up, deciding what the next learning step should be, and supporting them in order to achieve success. I would like to see us do more of this when it comes to professional learning in the workplace. Just as we wouldn’t expect a baby to go from sitting up to running in one giant learning step, we need to be mindful of the goals we want professionals to achieve and ensure well-scaffolded learning pathways exist

So how can we make professional learning for educators as experiential as the learning that we experience in our first few years?

Connectivism and changing times

George Siemens photo

George Siemens

This morning, we had the pleasure of hosting George Siemens. George held two one-hour sessions; one for all staff and another specifically for our learning and teaching development team. George had us all captivated without the aid of slides, the web, or any digital tools. He arrived fresh from the Vice Chancellors’ Symposium 2010 at Massey University on Friday, where he gave a presentation entitled Connectivism and Changing Times: Learning for a Socially Wired World.

George had our staff positively buzzing with ideas and questions during and after the session, some of which I will explore here.

Key roles of knowledge institutions

Throughout history, knowledge institutions have mapped their activities to the societies that exist and that they serve. Universities themselves were developed to service the model of knowledge from a time. Libraries essentially ‘capture’ knowledge and information from an era and the development of the printing press allowed this information to be published and generated further. This contributes to the concept of placedness, that is, activities and events occurring in or around a particular place or within its vicinity. Social network learning can help allow learners access to knowledge and information regardless of their location.

Change theory

George talked about three major types of change.

  1. Paradigm shift: It usually occurs about once every century or 200 years, often as the result of an anomaly in current thinking or practice.
  2. Broad technology adoption: Moving to the adjacent possible, while still retaining the essence of the original underlying experience, ie sustaining change. For example, the introduction of the dynamo to aid factory production. I wonder if the same could be said of technology enhanced learning for existing paper-based programmes, rather than a pedagogical shift to e-learning?
  3. Disruption: Google competed with Microsoft by entering the web market. Our institution could do this by offering a distinct style of open distance learning in New Zealand.

The secret to success with regard to information production nowadays is rapid iteration. That is, in order to keep up with the pace of information development and change, we need to be able to throw out ideas quickly, get feedback quickly, change our ideas quickly and move on. We often don’t have the time it requires to wait for the perfect article or learning resource to be produced before publishing and sharing it. Also, ideas need other people to contribute to them and help develop them. The cost for this is essentially zero thanks to tools such as blogging, microblogging, web cam, laptop, tablet, videos, and so on. This contributes to low-end disruptive change, an area explored by Stephen Marshall during his workshop on e-learning and organisational change a few weeks ago. Stephen gave the example of YouTube, with its low-quality, quickly-made videos by its community of users, taking a serious chunk out of the status and popularity of television production for news and other short video items. Sometimes there is a very valid place for resources that are “quick, dirty and disposable”.

Social network learning – connectivism

George asked, “Who can build and fly a 747 plane?” The answer is, “no-one – on their own”. This is a process that requires connected specialisation between individual expertise and a system which connects the right people with the right skills to do the right task. Just as we relied on social systems in the past to teach our children how to farm or build a house, we can create global social networks to help us understand knowledge. The possibilities are endless.