Wednesday, 16 April 2008

How online are lower skilled learners (pre level 2 learners) and harder to reach learners? (plus the marathon!)

I ran the London Marathon on Sunday so had plenty of time to think about my blog!! The marathon was great fun (!!!). The crowd was fantastic, particularly for the first 10 miles where I ran near a naked man (with "free tibet" on his backside!). He got the crowd going in Mexican wave style the whole time!! The highlight was running past Gordon Ramsay at mile 9 (I didn't swear at him!). Anyway, back to learning and technology............

There is often the unchallenged assumption that lower skilled individuals do not really use the web much and they are therefore not as appropriate for online learning (in Britain by lower skilled learners we mean learners that do not have the equivalent qualifications we would expect of a 16 year old). What do the facts say?

At Ufi learndirect, we use an approach that breaks the market into 10 segments. These segments range from “enthusiastic and enlightened” (very positive to learning) to “disaffected and discouraged” (most negative to learning, many barriers to learning, over half are out of work). There are 7.6 million pre level 2 learners in England (TGI 2006).

Interestingly (well to me in any case!!!), there are 2.7 million lower skilled learners (ie. pre level 2 learners) from the 3 segments most positive to learning. Over 80% of these 2.7 million pre level 2 learners have internet at home (compared to 64% in the general population). This is a big number!

In segments 4 to 6, there are a further 1.6 million pre level 2 learners who have above the population average internet access at home.

This shows that contrary to popular assumption there are millions of pre-level 2 learners that are web savvy and are actually more online than the population in general (ie. a large target market for online learning).
Well that’s the good news (I say good news because I work for a online learning company focused on pre level 2 learners!). The downside is that there are still roughly 2 million pre level 2 learners that are a combination of some or all of the following: negative to learning, have no or low qualifications, have multiple barriers and are also offline. It is these very hard to reach learners that Government would ideally like to focus on.

From Ufi learndirect’s view we have helped all market segments via online learning (we have helped between 11% to 19% of all segments). Our model is a mix of e-learning and e-support. The challenge we face in the future is to continue to introduce more web 2.0 stuff and multi media (eg. gaming, video assets) that help pre level 2 learners learn. The only way you do this is understanding your market segments inside out!!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Mobile Learning

I attended the Learning and Technology conference/exhibition in London at the end of January (one of the biggest events in the calendar). The audience of learning technology and training professionals were asked who had used Mobile Learning within their organisation.

Only 1 person put up their hand to say they/their organisation had used Mobile learning. This tells a story!!!! M-learning (learning via mobile, MP3 player, PDA, game consoles, travel laptops) has been the big thing for a while!! Too long!!!

However I will be brave and say that Mobile Learning will take off in 2 to 5 years time. The problem at the moment is that mobile software isn’t very good and there are also hundreds types of platforms out there (ie. there are no real standards). In 2 to 5 years time, there will hopefully be 2 or 3 main platforms which are all easy to use. There will also be authoring tools where content can be easily published to these few software platforms.

That’s the end of the blog……….But here is an add-on if you want to continue reading!!!…………………The question is “What are Mobile devices good for?”
Mobile devices are good for small learning bits like performance support (to tackle a particular issue out in the field) and as part of a blended approach (used as revision, quizzes and to assess your skills). Podcasts are already mainstay at many universities (all lectures are recorded), while others are using vodcasts (eg. short videos of guest speakers). Within my company (Ufi learndirect) we have tested video for mobile (short interview tips by Dawn French and John Cleese) and have used podcasts for engagement. Also just as we use the web for informal and formal information/knowledge/learning, it may be similar (ish) for mobiles (that is when we eventually have decent mobile software). Some people believe that social collaboration and file sharing will also grow on mobiles (just like it has on the web).

I’m going to be even more radical and suggest that Mobile learning will be used for longer pieces for some learners in the future (even perhaps e-learning!). The old adage was that podcasts needed to be short (5/10 minutes long), while now there are hundreds of thousands of people listening to 1 hour and longer pieces (I do)! The old adage was that video wasn’t suitable for small mobile devices. While now people are starting to watching 1 hour TV shows or films on the larger mobile devices (eg. The Apple Touch or a games console). For some learners (I hasten to stress this!; not all learners!) why can’t Mobile learning be core rather than just supplementary??!!

The learning delivered must adhere to good pedagogy standards and help learners learn (it will fail if Mobile learning is for technology sake rather than help learners learn!)
My predication for the future (famous last words!)………... Companies and training providers that pro-actively test mobile learning now will be at a commercial advantage in 3 to 5 years time. After all roughly half the world's population have a mobile ---- many, many more than broadband!! Food for thought perhaps………


Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The future is Moodle

I must have a craze about Learning Management Systems at the moment. Last blog for a while on LMS! All the research reports show that the one dodgy area of learning and technology relates to sales of LMSs. They have been steady or declining for a while. Many organisations are moving over to FREE open source LMS. By many accounts, an open source LMS (called Moodle) is now number two worldwide (after blackboard). Over 100,000 organisations use Moodle. The Open University has invested £4.5M and it’s worldwide reputation in Moodle.

On a whole range of functionality, evaluators have rated Moodle as good or better than proprietary LMSs. It’s number 1 with Colleges and universities. With companies or some training providers (eg. work based learning providers), it requires some adapting. Even so, I believe Moodle must be seriously considered. I’ve heard some arguments against adapting Moodle, here’s my reply………..
1) Moodle is best to create a learning environment around traditional classroom style delivery. This is changing quickly. The Open University has invested loads to widen the functionality. It’s better than investing in a proprietary system which you may need to change again! The whole world can help improve Moodle – you don’t have to do it all yourself or tie yourself into a proprietary system.
2) I can develop Moodle or get an elearning company to develop it for me, but the Moodle editorial board could delete it. You do need buy in from the editorial board. I don’t think this should bother organisations as you do need some governance otherwise it is like a football match without a referee! Editorial boards are common on the internet, especially as tools become more professional (eg. see Wikipedia)

The one mistake I hear repeated from training providers is that if they use open source as part of their service, they won’t be able to make money. Rubbish. We now have the first £1 billion open source company.

I love open source stuff. Let’s all use open source as much as possible.