Thursday, 26 June 2008

The new digital divide: those that can and can’t use web 2.0 (the “competent learner”)

At the recent EFQUEL (European Foundation for Quality in eLearning) forum in Lisbon, the delegates enjoyed the presentations around web 2.0, informal learning and social collaboration. These methods seem to be changing the way people learn. However, they were very concerned that many lecturers/tutors and some students could not use these new web 2.0 tools.

In the roundtable question and answer session, I answered a number of questions around what I call the “new digital divide” (see the above 2 minute You Tube video! or go to The old digital divide was around access to a computer and the web, while the new digital divide is between those that can use web 2.0 and those that can’t. Those that can’t use web 2.0 will increasingly be at a significant disadvantage (web 2.0 is around social collaboration and user generated content. It is amazing how much you can share, interact and learn from the various “How to…..“ guides, from Wiki‘s, blogs, RSS feeds, communities of practice etc).

As a society, we need to ensure that people have the skills to be a competent learner with web 2.0. We need to teach people “how to learn”. In a way this isn’t a new concept as a good teacher will always nature competent learners.

At my company (Ufi learndirect), we hope to produce new resources or courses to help people become a competent learner in the web 2.0 world (in order to explain web 2.0, how to use it and how it can help you learn). This will hopefully help to overcome the new digital divide and help learners to use the web for lifelong learning (it will also help people to learn with learndirect as we increasingly incorporate more and more web 2.0 tools into our curriculum).

Please do email me at if you would like a copy of an (internal!) report on the “Modern Digital Divide”. This was written by Ben Tomkinson who works in my team at Ufi. It’s a really good report which outlines how the digital divide has changed. As a result we need to change our solutions to the issue.

That’s the end of the blog (!!), but please continue to read if you want a flavour of Ben’s report.

PS. The original term “digital divide” emerged in the mid 1990s to describe the gap between those that own a computer and those that don’t (the term then changed to describe those who had regular access to the internet and those that don’t). It was felt that those who do not have access to the internet will be disadvantaged and that society/government needed policies to bridge this divide (75% of “hard to reach” people/those that are socially excluded are also digitally excluded).

The digital divide is reducing (now 64% of the population are online). The issues are changing rapidly - it is not just about access to the internet, there is a different rural vs. urban issue (more about cost and speed than access), the male/female divide has disappeared etc. There is still a digital divide with the disabled in particular, with older learners (though reducing!) and those that have severe multiple barriers (eg. a combination of many areas including, low skills, debt, drugs, homeless, unemployed). In addition, some middle class/wealthy people don‘t want to use the web for various reasons. It is no longer a working class vs. middle class split (see

The new digital divide for me is between those that can use web 2.0 and those that can’t.

I hope that Ufi learndirect will be able to help bridge this gap. But I also hope that Government’s (UK and EU) can shift their policy. Much of Government policy still seems to address the digital divide of the mid 1990s rather than the digital divide of 2008.

PPS. The other hope is that web 2.0 is meant to be intuitive. I don’t fully subscribe to this at the moment, but hope that one day it will be!!! Web 2.0 is certainly easier to use than web 1.0!!!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Informal learning debate at the European Foundation for Quality in eLearning (plus 3 cities in 6 days!)

Over the past week I’ve been in Cardiff (Wales), Lisbon (Portugal) and Doncaster (an exotic part of England!!!). It was fun, but it’s also nice to be home!

In Lisbon, I spoke at the EFQUEL forum (the forum was about the tension between quality and innovation). The first day was very much about how informal learning was changing education. Claudio Dondi (President, EFQUEL) framed the event by saying that new methods in an old context will not work and that we must ensure that the education sector doesn’t kill innovation. Nancy White (Full Circle Associates USA) gave an inspirational keynote talk about Informal Learning (and web 2.0).

So much so that I felt the urge to alter my talk to respond to the issues raised in her presentation and to the Q&A session. I spoke for half the time about my company, Ufi learndirect (all the usual stuff about the world’s largest elearning company with 2.5 million learners and what we were doing), but the other half about informal learning. This covered how web 2.0 is changing learning, the new digital divide around web 2.0 (what is the “competent learner” -- more about this in my next blog), the future of learning was mobile (via my mobile phone, pictures of the event were on my Facebook site instantly; so too was a podcast; while I could see that Nancy had put comments on my talk on Twitter, a mobile social networking site, in real time during my presentation).
What I disagree with is that web 2.0 was very much talked about within the context of informal learning.
I believe that there is a role for web 2.0 both in formal and informal learning. That in fact it may be more useful to talk about structured and unstructured learning. Web 2.0 and Informal learning are strong parts of both structured and unstructured learning.

I am hoping that Ufi learndirect will be able to increasingly capture and measure “how learners learn” via web 2.0 (as part of structured learning programmes). In a way this is formalising parts of what we consider informal learning.

The perennial issue is that measuring everything a learner does reduces creativity and actual learning. However (for good or bad) measuring learners’ progress is vital for companies and government programmes. Ufi learndirect could easily capture progress via learners use of gaming for example. Let’s also capture learners use of chatrooms and self generated content and use it as evidence of progress and assessment. The technology is there to do this.

PS. See for a definition of web 2.0 and informal learning. Formal learning covers training programmes, workshops & mentoring, while informal learning covers learning via networking, on the job learning, learning via manuals/instructions or through taking your own initiative.
PPS. EFQUEL is a European network in eLearning quality. It was born out of the EU Lisbon 2000 work and has 60 members from 17 countries (

Friday, 13 June 2008

Training companies should do more online marketing (Question: Do you need to have a large marketing budget to gain a large presence on the web?)

Over the weekend I was trying to find some free open source software to convert AVI (video) files to DVD (that’s enough technical detail!). Anyway, I searched for a hour and all I found were the same two companies offering a free 30 days trial (thereafter you had to pay).

I searched on google and the other search engines – these two companies dominated all the (unpaid organic) search engines (!). I searched on blogs. I searched social networking sites (eg. Facebook). I searched online news. I searched discussion forums. I searched bit torrent sites (download sites) and their related communities, but still all I got pointed to were the same two commercial companies. It seems that everywhere I turned for independent peer advice had been infiltrated by these two companies (through multiple personalities!).

Are there only two companies offering what I want? No. There are hundreds of different types of software out there to do what I want. The morale of the story is that these two companies had superb web marketing and dominated the web (this type of marketing is called Search Engine Optimisation SEO). I bet both companies had only one or two guys doing their web marketing stuff and a small budget – yet they dominated the web.

My question is – why don’t training providers do the same? It’s cheap and just takes staff time (together with a small marketing budget).

However, many companies do spend a great deal on SEO, but find it much more cost effective than offline marketing (TV/radio/press etc). It partly depends on whether you have 1 or many products to sell, and how you want to position your brand.

My objective view (objective I promise!) is that my own company (Ufi learndirect) is the best company by some considerable distance for web marketing. But still it does not dominate the web like some other companies in their field (learndirect probably has only 20% of the coverage of the two companies stated above). We’ve good for searches under terms like “courses”, “skills for life” and “business courses”, but not for terms like NVQs, training or particular subject matter (I’m talking unpaid rather than paid searches). Even under the terms courses, skills for life and business, we do not really dominate search engine results. We don’t come up under blogs, social networks, micro networking sites/blogging sites for mobile, VoiP sites (eg. Skype), online news and community/professional/sector sites in the way some other companies do. These are the ways that really influence customers and learners. Our learners are increasingly using the web in ways that were previously the reserve for under 24 year olds or the geeks. It is time for training companies to really “get the web” and start doing some stuff. You don’t need a large marketing budget the dominate the web. You need time, effort and people expertise.

PS. I run many of my blogs past the relevant Ufi expert in their field. So thank you to Chris Jackson for commenting on the draft (Chris is an expert on web strategy & web marketing). Chris’ point was that many companies invest hugely in Search Engine Optimisation. Companies are spending 30% of their marketing budgets on online marketing (I’ve seen recent figures stating that it is now 50%). Many companies are now spending roughly 15 to 20% of their total marketing budgets on SEO. My view is that companies need to rebalance their marketing budgets to ensure a big enough proportion on SEO (as this is better value for money). Why don’t you check your marketing budget: are you spending 15-20% of the marketing budget on SEO?

The alternative is to devote the equivalent in staff time on SEO. You can achieve a great, great deal via SEO at very low budget cost if you have the staff expertise and know-how. However many training companies fail on both accounts – they don’t spend on SEO, nor do they devote staff time to it. They are missing a trick.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Is technology a faster horse?

When the car was developed it was seen as a faster horse. What has actually happened is that the car (a new technology at the time!) has fundamentally changed the way we live and the way we work. Changes due to the car, include radical change to the way cities are designed, people can work miles away from where they live and leisure/travel has altered. Culture and communities are different due to the car.

In terms of learning, it is often said that technology is the “it” and not the “how” (ie. it is an enabler). I’ve said it myself! So too do many colleagues.

I am now thinking that I was wrong! We are witnessing fundamental change to the way we live and also how we learn. We are only at the start of the revolution.

I’m trading in my horse…………..