Friday, 30 May 2008

Web 2.0: “What research evidence is there that learners want web 2.0 to help them learn?”

This was the question posed to me after my presentation at a recent British Institute for Learning & Development (BILD) event. I gave an acceptable answer, but you know what it is like you always think of a much better answer later! Well, here is my second attempt.

Before, I attempt to answer the question, what is the definition of web 2.0? According to Wikipedia ( :

“Web 2.0 is a term describing the trend in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users. These concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies.”

Well back to the question about “what research evidence is there that learners want web 2.0 to help them learn”.

Now I used to be a researcher and speech writer to some UK Members of Parliament. So having this political training in mind (!!), I should tackle this by posing a different question and discussing the general issues (!!)………

“People are using web 2.0 in their everyday life and have embraced it. What evidence do you have that they do not want it to help them learn?”

There is a wealth of evidence to support the view that Web 2.0 has changed the way young people collaborate, socialise and create user generated content (eg. TGI surveys etc), and that these behaviours are starting to spread across different age groups. People are using web 2.0 in their everyday life. Why wouldn’t they want to use these tools for learning?

These web 2.0 behaviours are migrating into the world of learning. Universities are increasingly integrating web 2.0 stuff (particularly collaboration and user generated content) into the way they deliver learning. For example, many universities are hosting all copies of lectures on their website (Metropolitan University believe that podcasting lectures has increased grades), encouraging students to post self generated content, students are collaborating via social networking sites (Henley Management School are using a business networking site Linked In, while Cranfield uses You Tube), using mobile devices to access short guest lectures, using web 2.0 to replicate help bridge the gap between classroom theory and the workplace (eg. Warwick) and there is uproar when the campus wi-fi goes down for only a few minutes (students are that dependent!). (The FT elearning Supplement, March 2007)

I understand that if you ask many lower skilled learners or learners that are new to the web, they would look at you blankly if you asked them if they want web 2.0 to help them learn. Ufi is conducting some “action research” in a particular curriculum area which embeds many elements of web 2.0. We’ve had some focus groups demonstrating some of the features and getting feedback. What the focus groups show is that when lower skilled learners actually see materials which use web 2.0 tools they are very positive and believe it will help them learn. The trick is to get the right blend of web 2.0 stuff at the right time using good instructional design. This is the real learning curve for all training and learning providers out there (it is easier said then done! We are all only at the start of this journey…..). For more information see the PS at the end of this blog.

Web 2.0 is also changing the nature of informal learning (ie. formal learning covers training programmes, workshops, mentoring, while informal learning covers learning via network, on the job, manuals/instructions or through taking your own initiative). The barriers between formal and informal learning seem to be breaking down. People want information or training when they need it (“just in time”) not in long training courses. Behaviour on the web show that people are using google, You Tube, Wiki “How to…..” and various other sites to gain access to tips and solutions to their issue immediately. I believe this trend of using web 2.0 is changing the way we live and learn. Surely our learning institutions should keep up with their customers? Why wouldn’t people want schools, higher education and adult education to use web 2.0 to help them learn?

End of blog…………..but you can read on for the PS!!!

PS. Here is some more detail from Ufi’s Action Research in a particular curriculum area which embed many elements of web 2.0 (please bear in mind that this is from Focus groups so it highlights trends rather than facts!). At the usability stage of the action research, the focus groups were shown mock up resources and web frames. There was……..

*Strong endorsement for an interactive and engaging style of learning: “I especially like the downloads, video clips and visual aids, as this helps you see things more clearly and gives you a better understanding”
* Learners liked the short learning resources which utilised a mix of different media (Learners like the video style of learning – it is easier and preferable to just reading)
* Learners were happy to receive virtual support from their tutors as well as face-to-face support
* Learners wanted a site that was current, updated regularly and contained information/views from both experts and peers
* Wiki’s, communities/forums and rating resources were well received, but blogs were not. Oh dear (!!). But, perhaps this isn’t a criticism to all of us bloggers out there (!!). Learners said they didn’t feel they would have the time to contribute to their own blog.

PPS. Thank you to Sara Bingham and Kelly Golding Smith for their comments on the draft blog

Thursday, 22 May 2008

My presentation at BILD event – using technologies to meet learners needs (health warning!)

Last week I presented at a British Institute for Learning & Development (BILD) event in London on harnessing technology (

My presentation was on the Ufi learndirect story. It discussed how learndirect’s learning and technology offer has changed and innovated since 1998. The changing offer depended on two main factors – how our learners use technology and the UK Government’s skills agenda.

Now rest assured that I could think of nothing worse than writing a propaganda blog about my own company (I always try to give an objective view based on the evidence).

HOWEVER, the feedback from delegates was that they (genuinely!) found the presentation informative and thought provoking. Delegates said that the majority of best practice on elearning and technology came from universities, colleges and small providers so it was refreshing to hear about what has worked (or not worked) from the world’s largest elearning company (….outside China). So he’s my take of the 5 stages of learndirect (I used the above timeline as the basis of the presentation).

Background: The concept of learndirect was the result of a Policy think tank (the IPPR) paper into skills. Ufi learndirect was formed in 1998 (started operating in 2000) with a mission to improve the skills and employability of the UK workforce via technology (particularly focused on lower skilled learners). learndirect has 250,000 learners a year, 770 learning centres, 600 online courses and 85% brand recognition. Our learners undertake 10 million hours worth of online learning a year.

2000 – short courses launched
The offer: Around 1000 short courses were launched via a Learner Management System (LMS), alongside mass marketing.

What was innovative? The mass scale in terms of courses, numbers and LMS! (the LMS has 99.8% uptime). To the thousands of people that had a bad experience of a formal classroom, elearning gave them back their confidence. They could learn in an informal atmosphere at their own pace and at any time.

Learndirect was ahead of the game via online learning. Remember that in 1999 only 1 in 10 of the population was online, only 7% of Board directors saw the web as strategically important and the web was the preserve of young, rich and male.

2003 – Skills for Life offer (there are millions of adults in the UK without the literacy and numeracy skills expected of a 16 year old).
The offer: Everyone said that Skills for Life could not be delivered online (plus that eAssessment would not work). Learndirect now delivers 58,000 Skills for Life Tests a year and is the largest provider in the UK with high quality ratings.

What was innovative? The learner journey was innovative from:
Engagement: mass engagement of hard to reach learners via innovative campaigns for the first time in the UK
Initial Assessment: sophisticated diagnostic tools that identifies exactly what the learner needs to learn (the learner would not have to sit through a whole College term, but would just learn the areas he/she needs). This is real personalised learning.
Elearning content: learndirect hires the best experts to write the content (much like Harvard or Oxford compete to hire the best academics, learndirect can tap the best of breed experts out there). The courses uses the best instructional design.
Esupport: tutors are available for 1-2-1 support (it is essentially like having your own tutor)
Test: robust online testing on a mass scale

All this was via a Learner Management System that coped with 250,000 to 500,000 learners a year, that very very rarely broke and could collect a massive amount of data per learner to fulfil the UK Government’s audit requirements.

2006 – Employer offer around Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and short courses
The offer: Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and short courses. NVQs would require a new skill from learndirect as they require assessment of work based competence. More businesses were online by 2006, but many did (and do) not know about elearning (more about that in a future blog!).

What was innovative: The standard areas of the learner journey are similar to Skills for Life, but the Initial Assessment is a “smarter” profiler and course builder and the assessment is a mix of ePortfolio’s and real people (Assessors!)

The benefit of this innovation is that Ufi learndirect has busted the myth that NVQs could not be delivered online (learndirect now delivers 6000/7000 NVQs a year). However, there is much more work to be done on improving the ePortfolio and on the interaction between the web and the Assessor.

2008 – Employability (the skills required to help you get a job or to get a better job)
I won’t go through the whole story here, but just to say that learndirect has added mobile learning and games based learning to the employability offer. The world is so different to that of 1999 – this has made the innovation possible. Now 64% of the population are online (90% are online via broadband), and many lower skilled learners are online.

The future – web 2.0
During my presentation, I spoke about how people were learning via the web. Now many learners are now creating, owning and sharing their own content. They want to network and collaborate and want personalised learning. A one size fits all model no longer works (does the teacher always know best now?). We discussed my iGoogle Homepage - see blog
- and how this sort of behaviour would change learners expectations now and in the future. I also discussed some of the areas that Ufi learndirect were working on – the flavour of things to come.
This includes more online, virtual learning, resources (not just courses), vibrant communities, expert content mixed with self generated content. All exciting stuff for the future. Though I can write the words, these things only come alive when you hear me speak with passion and excitement about web 2.0 and uses for learning!

Anyway, I’ve now written the blog I never wanted to write!! I found it boring to write (as it’s all second nature), but I know many of you wanted to know the learndirect story and how we have continually strived to use new technologies to help learners learn. If you would like more info or demo’s, please email me.

After the presentation, there was a really good question and answer session. One of the questions was “what research evidence do you have that learners want web 2.0 to help them learn”. That’s for my next blog!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Skype and virtual teacher/tutor support (including podcast with Steve Cross)

I know some of you have been using Skype for a long time; well I’m a late adopter of Skype (a so-called Voice over the Internet Protocol service. VoiP for short!).

What do I like about it? Well it’s free calls, it’s free video conferencing (1-2-1), free tele-conferencing, free instant messaging and a free whiteboard.

It is also being used by many training providers and companies for virtual training or support both on a 1 to 1 basis and also on a 1 to many basis (……case studies in a future blog perhaps). VoiP could be used as a standalone free service on the web. Alternatively some training providers may wish to integrate VoiP with their Learner Management System (LMS) or with their websites. Bebo has integrated Skype within it‘s social networking site. The thinking goes that it is best to use an existing proven VoiP and that a training company should go to where their customers are (millions are on Skype). It seems that out of the various VoiP providers, Skype is in pole position (though there is that issue that the commercial model is unproven!)

Here’s a short podcast between me and Steve Cross, (it was recorded over Skype) where we consider how easy it is for lower skilled lowers to use Skype and how it could be used for virtual training and support. Thank you Steve! (Steve's an expert on lower skilled learners and works for Ufi)

For the podcast please click on the audio player on the right hand side of this blog or (you can also download the podcast to iTunes from this link)

That’s the end of the blog, but if you want to read more details carry on (!!!)………….
4 main uses of VoiP for companies and training:
1) Corporate. Conference calls or video conference with a colleague for free (unfortunately the video conference is only between two people rather than many, but this is still useful for many business meetings)
2) Tutor support. Uses include 24/7 tutor support (1 to many); 1 to 1 teacher/tutor to student support
3) Instant Messaging - Skype is one of the leaders for instant messaging.
4) White Board function (though I haven’t tested this out yet!)

Question and Answers……..
1) What is the webcam/video quality like over Skype?
Well, CNN have used Skype for interviews. High quality video option in Skype is great. However, there is quite a big difference between standard quality (eg. with a cheap webcam) and high quality video in Skype (where you need a decent webcam like a Logitech Quick CamPro £45; decent broadband, and a dual core PC). High quality is up to 4 times better. It offers 640 x 480 resolution (standard is 320 x 240) and is 30 frames per second.

2) What is the audio quality like over Skype?
Overall very good. USB headsets (ie. Headsets that go into a USB port) offer better quality. Depending on your broadband connection and number of applications open, on your laptop, you can occasionally lose audio. Audio quality has increased so much over Skype that some companies now use it to record professional audio broadcasts (though for this level of consistent quality you need a fairly high technical knowledge of Skype functionality!!!).

3) There are free calls to other Skype users, but are there also paid options?
Yes for £1.50 a month you can get a number, voicemail, free local landline calls and international calls at local rates. There are also business options within Skype (with various additional business functionality)

4) Will VoiP’s last the distance?
Despite millions of users, the commercial model is still unproven. Skype are developing their services for business, and also their added value packages for consumers. Skype are now part of Google -- so perhaps VoiP is another added value service to a wider business based on advertising revenue?? Whatever the final business model (commercial or free!), VoiP is extremely popular and millions will continue to use it.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Call to RSS arms! (plus Brazil!)

Last Sunday I watched the final of Brazil’s football cup at the Maracana stadium in Rio. I was a little nervous (not only have I always dreamed of going to probably the most famous stadium in the world; the place Pele used to play in front of 200,000 fans), but also I had a number of high tech gadgets on me. My Lonely Planet guide advised me not to take anything valuable to Brazil!!! I was therefore surprised to see a magnitude of expensive mobiles, cameras and camcorders everywhere I looked. It seems that everyone is using technology to make their lives easier and for fun.

This got me thinking about how we can all use technology to make our lives easier and for learning (I had to get a link in somewhere!!). Most people subscribe to my blog by email rather than by RSS feed (though RSS feeds are much better).

My call to arms to you is to set up a RSS feed. See if it helps you!! I think you will find it will…….. What is a RSS Reader? Latest news, podcasts, blogs and latest info on websites can be aggregated via what is called a “Reader” ie. You don’t have to keep visiting loads of websites. On one screen you can view all the latest information that you need (see

I don’t know what I would do without my reader (a great deal of my job related learning is via my Reader). I have 7 main categories which cover both work and my personal interests: learning & technology (see image - this includes all my favourite L&T blogs and news); general technology (consumer plus latest web mkg news); education & training; football; running; finance (for my limited stocks!!) and news.

I’ve spoken about my grandma in previous blogs. Now for my father!! My father is new to the web this year. He set up a Reader in 30 minutes (he found this easier then setting up an email account). My dad uses a reader to keep abreast of the latest sports, news and for learning. To tell you the truth the real reason he set one up was because he is a big Spurs (football fan). He stands in a newspaper shop every day reading the football headlines from every paper (let‘s hope I‘m not like this when I retire!!). Now he doesn’t need to go to a newspaper shop as he can see not only 10 newspapers, but 50 all through a Reader. My father now also uses his Reader to track several other interests and to continue his lifelong learning.

So, my friends, this is my call to arms to you…………….why don’t you set up a RSS feed!!!

There are three simple steps……
1) Choose a reader. I use a google reader (, but there are many others out there (eg.
2) Set up an account (this takes 3 minutes)
3) Click the red RSS button on your favourite websites, news sites, blogs and podcasts in order to add these feeds to your Reader. If you have several different types of feeds, then organise them into categories or folders.

Have fun………