Emerging Technologies for Learning

Applications of emerging technologies for learning are evolving very rapidly at the moment. Reseach reports and cases on technology-enhanced learning are popping up everywhere in the web. The British BECTA organisation published an interesting report on the “Emerging Technologies for Learning“. In the report six experts describe different emerging technologies and their impact on learning. The trends covered are:

  • The netgeneration: a new generation of learners with the computer as the nucleus of their workspace. They go online when they need information, are multitasking and primarily use Instant Messaging, e-mail and cell phones for communication. Conclusion: our assumptions about students and what is best for their education may not be matched by today’s reality.
  • Mobile, wireless & connected learning: mobile devices and wireless networks are changing the way we live, work and learn. We are connected to people and information real-time, anywhere and anytime. For learning the concept of the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) applies to this trend. It enables close integration of learning into the day-to-day practice of our private and work lives.
  • Location-based, context-aware learning: ‘ubiquitous computing’ principles are about the integration of computing power (microprocessors) in our environment. The computer itself dissapears, but they have their tentacles in the environment to sense. manage, interpret and act on information around us. This already becomes clear in wireless networking, GPS and mobile devices. However applications are few the potential of this technology for the learning environment is great.
  • Serious games and virtual worlds: serious games and virtual worlds are about using gaming and virtual reality techniques to explore non-leisure concepts. They enable us to provide support for learning communities, broadening networks of learners and providing creative, self-directed learning and experience design. This matches the shifting need from knowledge transfer to experience and activity design in education. 
  • Search technologies: new Internet search technologies emerge with conceptual, contextual and semantic search. This enables us to find the information we are looking for more easily when we turn to the web. Tag clouds and social tagging are examples of new ways of tagging available information to improve searching processes. It supports learning, but is not a substitute for Education 1.0 that for this author hasn’t lost its relevancy.
  • Interactive displays: new ways of displaying computer screens open up new ways of using computers in the classroom and beyond. With touch-screen mobile devices and electronic whiteboards new opportunities for learning emerge. Computers and content become more human centered and enable collaboration. This supports new ways of activity-based and workplace learning with computers.

This BECTA report is an interesting read that is rooted in the field of education, but also has relevancy for corporate learning. New models of learning are within reach for learners and learning professionals based on the empowering force of new technology. Let’s reap the benefits!

Training as Development Aid

Last week I read an interesting article by Mirjam van Praag about training as development aid for entrepreneurs in Developing Countries. She describes an approach that combines microfinance for these entrepreneurs with training in business administration. This is not only lifting the success rate of the entrepreneurs, but it also reduces the risks for financials of offering microfinance to these entrepreneurs. And since microfinance have proven to be a succesfull means to fight poverty, adding training to the formula will make the success even bigger and more sustainable. Research by Karlan and Valdivia of Yale University has proven that the entrepreneurs that received training perform better. Striking is the fact that the entrepreneurs that were most sceptic about the training, had most benefit from it. The entrepreneurs received the training in 30-60 minute weekly sessions at their local Bank. They have discussions in entrepreneur communities and receive some homework. “With microfinance the coaching and guidance of entrepreneurs is just as important as the finance itself”, is a well-known phrase that proves to be right. This sounds like a good opportunity for e-learning as well!

Corporate Learning in 2008: three trends to watch

In an article for CLO Magazine e-learning researcher Josh Bersin described three trends to watch for Corporate Learning in 2008. Researchers like Bersin, with their strong connections to vendors of corporate learning solutions, might be slightly biased towards creating hypes. On the other hand the trends he described are too generic and vendor unrelated to suspect him. According to Bersin the year 2008 will bring us:

  • Talent-Driven Learning Programs: forward-thinking learning executives are emphasizing talent-driven learning programs — particularly in areas such as leadership development, onboarding and career development — to support talent strategies.
  • The New Learning On Demand: We have been writing about rapid e-learning, performance support and informal learning for years. Conditioned by Google, RSS feeds, YouTube and other popular tools, employees are now expecting to find answers on any job- or company-related topic in seconds.
  • Get Ready for Self Published Content: Today, organizations can take “off the shelf” tools for blogs and wikis and use them to create communities of practice that facilitate such informal, on-the-job learning.

The are not very surprising and maybe even heard at the end of 2006 too some extent. But, it is always good to read some confirmation of directions taken with corporate learning initiatives in organisations.

Entrepreneurship: What they don’t teach you in a MBA

This week I formally kicked off for my ultimate corporate learning experience: the start of my own company. This milestone is set with the registration at the Chamber of Commerce today. In September 2007 we (me and two partners) will be in business with Atrivision. We will focus on the link between organisation, learning and technology delivering practical solutions for organisation. I will update you on the exact details of this new venture when we are in business in september. For this post I want to focus on the learning aspect of this excercise.

What struck me is the learning experience you go through setting up a company. And what surprised me (or maybe not) is how little of this is covered in formal education. I finalised my MBA just a year ago, but I must say you face a lot of new challenges they don’t cover in a business administration study. And, you learn to cope with them very rapidly in action. I ‘developed’ my own blended learning program on the fly with some formal workshops at the Chamber of Commerce. These covered issues like ‘How to set-up your financial administration’ and ‘Formulating general terms & conditions’. I added a lot of semi-formal learning reading books for specific knowledge and entrepreneurial inspiration. These ranged from a review of the Entrepreneurship module from my MBA (I faced a transfer issue regarding this knowledge following the course in 2006) via Million Dollar Consultancy to Purple Cow and ZAG. The Dutch book “En nu laat ik mijn baard staan” (“And now I am going to grow a beard”) also served as a source of inspiration. Besides this semi-formal part I found the informal part very helpful, consisting of several meetings with experts in accounting, tax, contracts and (venture) capital. Last but not least we are part of the TOP(Temporary Entrepreneurial Positions) programme of the University of Twente. This enables us to be part of a network of Knowledge Intensive Entrepreneurs. And, this also gives us the opportunity to work with a scientific and business mentor. For the scientific part Prof.dr. Joseph Kessels will be our mentor and we already had an inspiring meeting with him. His book on HRD in the Knowledge Economy will serve as a guide for defining the value proposition of Atrivision. In addition to all this we also will have our offices at the Knowledge Park just opposite to the Campus. I am therefore thrilled by the idea that the learning will continue at full throttle in the upcoming months. We have established a learning ecology or social network that will be a sound basis for informal learning.

I am confident that we are going to be successful with our new company. But if not, then at least we had a wonderful learning experience that will stay with us for life. For everyone looking for a course or study to follow, I can recommend setting up your own company. Or you can join Atrivision, since we will be an entrepreneurial network organisation willing to share learning with you!

The end of Lifelong Learning?

A few weeks ago my local newspaper published a piece on Lifelong Learning that expressed concerns about the lack of support the Dutch Government is giving to it. The argument is that there are good intentions, but action is missing. “No one is against Lifelong Learning, but we need more people promoting it actively”, according to Theo Bovens of the Dutch Open University. His institute is facing a decrease in new students year after year. You can argue if this is an indication of a lack of interest in lifelong learning or it is pointing at a different problem.

But anyway, more concerns are raised. The article points at the fact that it is not possible in the Netherlands to get a Government sponsored scholarship for picking up a study beyond your thirties. Also the cancellation of attractive tax deductions and the limiting of subsidies is doing Lifelong Learning no good according to the journalist. The government should take its responsibility in financing Lifelong Learning instead of leaving it to organizations and individual employees. In my opinion the government is already betting on a new horse called Innovation. The article continues with the scary perspective that this behavior will lead us to disaster. The Netherlands will not reach their goal of having 20% of the workforce following a part-time course or studying besides work . Is this alarming? Well, when you look at the fact that the Netherlands are at 16.6% and above average in the EU, there is nothing to worry about. But when you consider the Netherlands having knowledge economy and innovation high on its priority list, it might be alarming that Slovenia has passed us and also Sweden and Finland score significantly higher.

But there is hope. Research into Lifelong Learning is in general only focused on formal education (Education Permanente). It is about quantity in money spend on and students that go through education and training programs. Although it provides some information on the bias for learning in a country, there is much more than just the formal side of learning. Lifelong learning is as human as eating and sleeping. It is a natural thing, that occurs regardless of classrooms and instructors (in some cases even more effective in the absence of these). Especially in times of rapid change in knowledge, technology and methodologies formal approaches are too slow anyway. So, let us be the best in informal learning. It won’t help us make us reach our Lisbon goals, but it will help us forward.