Wednesday, 25 January 2012


If I am confused, so must they be! What am I talking about? The many ways that in education and in the workplace we really do our best to mess people around. And it's in every aspect of their  experience - teaching methods, assessment methodologies, technology, and perhaps most of all, in the learning culture we expect the learner to subscribe to. Is it any wonder that many young people shut themselves off from the "system" at the first opportunity. And it is an even greater wonder that we manage to get some of them back into the system enticed with sexy terminology like social learning, self-directedness in learning, competence through use of simulations - and most of all that wonderful thing, the smart device! 

Over the last year I have seen examples of technology enabled learning that make my eyes water with envy, and at the same time with despair because the world in which I saw it is so far away from the reality of my world in industry and commerce - and that was in a primary school. I have been told by a distinguished university that there is no place for industry in the design of curriculum, provision of practical experience, and even a rejection of funding in return for creating a partnership to ensure that the graduates they produce are employable. 

Education is full of disconnects between primary, secondary, college and university. It used to be just getting used to campus life for a young person entering higher education. Now it is also a complete change in methodology, access to information, platforms, and all the other things that go with living in the modern world. Often it is the disempowering realisation that what was possible is no longer so. Yes, there will be ways around it, but the way our connected life is lived will have a whole new set of tools, protocols, constraints - and a very different culture as well. 

I heard a lecturer from a leading university presenting a paper about the problems and ways she had helped students overcome them in shifting their perceptions of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter from being purely social tools to essential study instruments. They had huge difficulty in coming to terms with their past history of disclosure now following them around because it is in the public arena and will influence employment prospects.  I thought to myself - wait for the next challenge,, when they have to come to terms with the ethics, policies and protocols heaped on them by zealous IT and IP guardians in the workplace. 

I have listened to learned papers identifying that 1st year students are computer illiterate  - not rocket science, they have grown up attached to their mobile devices. In Africa, a computer is a dream for most, a mobile is a life necessity. Yet in the workplace "seniority" is frequently still required to be eligible for a laptop. And in the meantime the learner has in their hand the most sophisticated mobile imaginable, is skilled with it and has great expertise in going round the back of any institutional constraints placed in their way. We need to get real! 

Why is it necessary to use different platforms for learning (where technology is used - and of course that is probably still a minority) in schools, universities and places of employment? Schools do not have the funding that has traditionally been present in business so their focus has been on the cheap and open source. Business has a history of vast in-house IT human resource acting as everything to do with technology - sourcing, acquiring, installing, managing, regulating, policing and all the other stuff that shows that they have forgotten that they serve the business, not run it. But the outcome is prescribed, purchased solutions, often acquired for huge sums of money as "best in class" ( because management didn't know what other questions to ask in sanctioning the purchase), frequently having to be compatible with unwieldy enterprise management systems, and ultimately with built in redundancy because they cannot afford tone updated.  Perish the thought of using the cloud and letting someone else worry about the latest upgrade! 

And when did the workplace and its feeder education system ever get together to work out    how best to help the student find their way through the transitions that are inevitable as we grow up and our focus on learning changes, together with our ability to take on for ourselves the responsibility for defining our needs, and finding ways of meeting them? 

In the UK the IT curriculum in schools is at last to be updated from archaic lessons on how to use Microsoft products to a slant that is more concerned with computing. Would it not be better to try to help students understand the communication and technology revolution with its inexorable headlong rush to such information overload our brains will actually have to change to prosper in it? Curation skills, going way beyond "Google mentality", learning the forgotten skills of applying judgement to information, creating one's own frameworks to guide learning, are these not more important than learning to use a programme or an app - something which is second nature to young people armed with their multitude of devices. 

Then, dare I say it, the workplace has in many places not even begun to adjust to the way of life of those entering it. But has tertiary education either?  

There is much to do to smooth that path and to enable a new generation inspired to continue their learning, confident in the tools at their disposal, and knowing how to apply them responsibly and with an innovative freedom to solving business issues in their own ways in a globally connected society. 

Oh - and of course there is the mass of the older generation for whom everything above is just too much....... 

Did I even mention pedagogies or the hopeless mess that I observe the education system getting into with validation of PLN's (Personal Learning Networks) etc? In the workplace if it works and people can perform because of it that's good enough. The only validation is performance results. 

We need to take a long hard look throughout the lifelong learning process at what we are about and how we help individuals, institutions and organisations optimise in a very fast changing world.