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Learning 2.0 a step too far for public education?


Before I began my research in to the effectiveness of social computing for workplace learning (a.k.a., Learning 2.0 in the Enterprise) I had begun to form a view that public sector education wasn't embracing technology enabled social learning. As I get deep in to the primary research phase of my dissertation, that view is being supported by feedback and data.

I'm coming to the conclusion that public education is still grappling with how to successfully manage Learning 1.0, and Learning 2.0 is a distant prospect for many institutions.

So, what evidence have I got to back up my assertions?

Back in 2008 I was working on a pro-bono project with a Russell Group university in the UK on the development of a postgraduate qualification in learning. During the design of that qualification I was alarmed to find that whilst the university had some very luxuriously appointed and ancient buildings, their exposure to learning technology was limited to a Virtual Learning Environment that primarily served the needs of course/learner administration - a familiar story for those who have experienced how corporate Learning Management Systems are big on management and small on learning. There was certainly nothing akin to a social computing platform for learners in evidence.

Moving forward to 2009 I enrolled on a postgraduate management course at a modern university in the UK, and quickly realised that the university VLE was similarly 'all about management'. Yes, I could pay my course fees online, I could submit assingments, I could receive notifications from the university on exam schedules and the suchlike, but access to learning was limited to library and journal search tools. The concept of a blog, wiki, whiteboard, collaborative project space, even file sharing was unknown in this environment. 

In 2011 I was invited to join a governance board with another UK university, with oversight of undergraduate IT and Computing qualifications. This particular university being at the vanguard of technology adoption throughout its history. Here I thought I would find extensive use of social computing, and indeed I was right - but only for the students, not among the academic and support staff. This seemed crazy to me, an example of 'Do as we teach, not as we practice'.

Jumping forward to 2012 I was invited to attend a social media qualification launch event with a major UK awarding body. The audience was packed with tutors and department heads from further education colleges around the UK, probably 200 in total. Enthusiasm for the qualification was palpable among the audience, lots of great questions, lots of eagerness to get on the Social Media bandwagon with a qualification (read: government funded students). I asked one of the speakers at the event if I could pose a question to the audience, specifically 'Raise your hands if your college uses social media for learning among your students'. Suddently the atmosphere changed to a dark and moody groan. Not only did FE colleges not use social media for learning among their students, many if not all banned access to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and so on. Again, an example of 'Do as we teach, not as we practice'.

So, now we come to some of the comments left by public sector educators at the end of my questionnaire in to the effectiveness of social computing for workplace learning. Here are just a couple of exemplars of a trend I see throughout the data from public sector educators:

"Sorry, I suspect my answers are fairly useless. The initial question ask if we use social media for learning. We do but it is targeted at our students (we are a University) rather than employees and so most of the following questions weren't really relevant to me."

"I work in education, the majority of school managers do not have a clue about how to use this type of learning effectively; merely using the jargon because they have learnt a new buzz word. They may be able to talk the talk but have no idea how to walk the walk. This is a generalisation but please prove me wrong."

and a final comment from one participant who either didn't read (or understand) the definition of workplace learning, and was unable to count the 7 advantages and 7 disadvantages I pose in the questionnaire, each of which was identified from interviews with 20 L&D thought leaders, influencers and practitioners in IBM, both internal and client facing:

"The questionnaire is potentially grossly misleading. It asks only about advantages of using social computing. Most of my experience is of the disadvantages - which accelerate the dumbing-down of universities."

There you have it, social computing is duming-down universities, just as the invention of writing threatened Socrates love of the discipline of memorising, and let's not get in to the evils of the printing press.

To be fair, academics (and their students) are not the audience for my research, and they are not expected to demonstrate that the learning they participate in is 'effective' in any measure a business might apply. Academically rigorous - yes, exhibiting critical thinking - certainly, showing a breadth of reading and research - without a doubt, but delivering desirable behavioural change that is aligned with business objectives - I don't think so.

When clients want to see my solution to their business challenge - they want it yesterday, and Learning 1.0 is not going to help me find the answers I need, access the experts who know, build the networks that will sustain my competitive advantage. For that I need Learning 2.0.

My research continues and if you'd like to be in with a chance of winning a £50 (UKP) Amazon or iTunes voucher, I would appreciate your help in completing this questionnaire

The questionnaire will be available until 20th July 2012 and it takes about 10 mins to complete. Every participant who leaves an email address will receive a 'thank you' in the form of a $10 (USD) store credit to spend with National Geographic's partner - a great way to support artisans in developing nations.

Participation is anonymous (unless you wish to leave your email address), and all my findings, conclusions and recommendations will be published in October, and sent to those who wish to receive a copy.

2 Responses

  1. Public Education and Web 2.0

    It is very interesting to hear you espouse your findings day by day Paul. I wonder just how much of your findings apply purely to the UK and how many correspondents you have from other places. Certainly from my own researchers I am fairly sure that some folks in Australia and Singapore are a very long way ahead of the ‘standard’ in British Schools, Colleges and Universities, however there ARE patches of truly innovative work being done here, some of it some time ago now such as the admirable MoLeNet work on mobile learning.

    I have moved from Further Education (FE) into the charity sector and find that many of the issues which annoyed me in FE, such as highly didactic delivery using page turning eLearning, is widespread in my new sector whilst the genuine approaches to ‘blending’ using truly innovative ideas is still very much in it’s infancy. Your research can do nothing but help us all to realise just what is possible and how we might take it all forward in our own workplaces, but I would strongly advocate the modern equivalent of the old literature review, of which a brief glimpse at the reports of the 2011(and earlier if useful)  JISC on-line conference, at which I was once again delighted to be a ‘super delegate’  would make interesting reading for all those interested in this subject.

    A good start point is: 

    Enjoy and good luck in what seems a fascinating piece of work that will make for a great MSc dissertaion in due course.



  2. Public Education and Web 2.0


    It would certainly not surprise me to find that Singapore in particular is at the vanguard of technology adoption for learning (and education). I’ve been very lucky to speak at a number of education and learning events in Singapore, and my impression of that country is one where education (in the broadest sense) is still held in very high regard, and technology is seen as both an enabler of learning, and as a competitive differentiator – a powerful mash up of Asian cultural disposition to attain higher education, very strong work ethic and fearless adoption of technology for economic advantage.

    — Paul D Jagger PgDMS CITP FBCS twitter, skype and linkedin: pauldjagger

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