Thursday, December 20, 2007


Much as I love technology and gadgets, they have their downside. Mobiles on trains are just ANNOYING, and bluetooth headsets mark the wearer out as, well SAD.

Following the advice of the great Bob Marley we can, for about $25, buy a device that jams annoying mobile calls. Click the switch and it sends out a blast of radio waves that stops the call. This has become something of a sport with jamming commuters. They wait until the caller gets through and jam it just one sentence into the conversation. "Wicked man.....CLICK, "Off to Tuscany tomorrow...CLICK. Wonderful!

On Bluetooth, I think it should be made legal to hit anyone wearing said device on the head, with a baseball bat. You might as well tattoo 'I'M A TOTAL PRAT' on your forehead. Note, of course, that this picture shows something you never see in real life - a woman wearing the device - never happens, they're far too sensible.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Are we outsourcing our memory?

When neuroscientist Ian Robertson tested 3,000 people he found significant differences between the young and old in the recall of personal information (telephone numbers, relative’s dates of birth etc). The differences were in some cases as much as 87% versus 40% recall. Robertson puts this down to fingertip knowledge retrieval. Why remember telephone numbers, dates and email addresses, when they’re stored online?

Put it in

In short, we’re outsourcing our memory. My blogs (e-learning, travel, art) are extensions of my brain’s memory storage, as are my stored photographs, papers, book reviews , powerpoints and so on. I’ve been blogging for years only to find that my posts form a sort of archive of thoughts that I often turn to for answers to questions I’m asked or reports I write or for items in talks I give at conferences. When writing or saving stuff becomes habitual, you find, years later, that you have an invaluable trace of personal thoughts and reflections. It’s also a powerful method of learning, as it makes you enjoy learning, focus your thoughts and engage in debate with others. I’ve loved receiving comments on my blog and engaging with people, many whom I have never met. Rather than locking up your thoughts, and inevitably forgetting most of them, you can get it down and it’s out there. I have also benefited from these outpourings and memory archives of others I admire – Clive Shepherd, Jay Cross, Seb Schmoller, David Wilson and many others. Their memories seem accessible to me.

Pull it out
What’s interesting about this form of storage is the power of retrieval. Rather than relying on my increasingly fallible ability to recall knowledge I can, wherever I am in the world, go online and pull it out in it’s original digitally perfect form. There’s no forgetting, filtering or distortion. My iPod has my lifetime’s likes in music ready to be retrieved from my pocket. Like many others I have searched for a topic on Google only to see my own archived blog entry appear on the first search page. This is as stark a comparison between the fallibility of biological memory, compared to the infallibility of my extended digital memory.

Pass it on
This retrieved knowledge can even be passed on with links in emails or messenger. It’s this instant access, looking up Wikipedia or Googling while on the phone, in a meeting or a conference call, that characterises this extension of memory. It’s retrieval with a punch – with replicability.

Truly remarkable
What’s remarkable about all of this outsourced memory is that’s it’s free. The tools, storage and retrieval are all free. It’s hard to see how astonishing this change has been, how absolutely revolutionary. And this is only the beginning. Our new digital identities will become ever-more important, possibly as important as our biological identities.

Christmas turkeys

Recent reports from the ASTD and Training Magazine saw e-learning at 25% and 30% of total training mix, well up on previous years. However, in the UK there's good and bad news.

The Christmas season has brought lots of bad news for e-learning companies Epic, Futuremedia and Copia. All three seem to have imploded. On the other hand, many e-learning companies have had a bumper year.

Futuremedia, who have split their shares more often than a log in a matchstick factory, are down to a value of around 250k (and falling). They get threatened with delisting from NASDAQ on an annual basis. The shareholders must be hopping mad to have seen all that cash creamed off by hopeless managers who know nothing about this market. They are so saddled with debt that it would be fair to describe them as the Northern Rock of e-learning.

Epic’s new CEO was mad that their 12 redundancies were posted on the Kineo website in December, four CEOs in two years, and hapless management by Huveaux have seen its revenues, profits and value plummet. At least the new CEO knows something about the market, which is more than can be said for their catastrophic Chairman who limps from one disaster to another (ex-Eidos) and obviously incompetent management. The lesson here is; don’t get bought by a bunch of crusty, old ‘paper publishers’.

Then there’s Copia bought up for 25k in cash and some shares, with liabilities of 46k. Real bottom of the barrel stuff.

The good news is that companies managed by people who know the market and know what they’re doing, seem to be thriving. LINE, Kineo, Brightwave, Caspian and others have all seen fantastic growth this year by innovating and moving with the newer trends in demand.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

10 reasons to dump lectures

I give a lot of talks at conferences but always make it clear that this no way to deliver learning. Unfortunately people are addicted to the format. Why? It’s easy just to turn up and listen. It’s a lazy format for lazy learners. Also, I’m astonished at the number of people who turn up for conferences talks and take no notes. It’s is like turning up for a tennis match with no racquet.

This brings me to the one-hour format. Conference talks, lectures in universities, periods in schools and the ‘one-hour’ of e-learning pricing model, all of these fall foul of the deep addiction to the ‘hour of learning’ delivered as a lecture.

  1. Babylonian hour: we only have hours because of the Babylonian base-60 number system. It has nothing to do with the psychology of learning.
  2. Passive observers: lectures turn students into passive observers. Research shows that participation increases learning, yet few lecturers do this (Brophy & Good, 1986; Fisher & Berliner, 1985; Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1984).
  3. Attention fall-off: our ability to retain information falls off badly after 10-20 minutes. The simple insertion of three ‘two-minute pauses’ led to a difference of two letter grades in a short and long-term recall test (1987, Winter).
  4. Note-taking: lectures rely on note taking, yet note-taking is seldom taught, massively reducing their effectiveness (Saski, Swicegood, & Carter, 1983).
  5. Disabilities: even slight disabilities in listening, language or motor skills make lectures ineffective, as it is difficult to focus, discriminate and note-take quickly enough in a lecture (Hughes & Suritsky, 1994).
  6. One bite at cherry: if something is not understood on first exposure there’s no opportunity to pause, reflect of get clarification. This ‘one bite of the cherry’ approach to learning is against all that we know in the psychology of learning.
  7. Cognitive overload: lecturers load up talks with too much detail leading to cognitive overload. In addition they often go ‘off on one’, with tangential material.
  8. Tyranny of location: you have to go to a specific place to hear a lecture. This wastes huge amounts of time.
  9. Tyranny of time: you have to turn up at a specific time to hear a lecture.
  10. Poor presentation: many lecturers have neither the personality nor skills to hold the audience's attention.

‘Lectures were once useful; but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary. If your attention fails, and you miss a part of a lecture, it is lost; you cannot go back as you do upon a book' Samuel Johnson

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Broken break-out habit

Trainers love a good break-out session but my heart sinks when it’s suggested at a conference or seminar. It’s a tired old fossil of a format.

Oh no - it's a break-out!
You ‘break-out’ into small groups, choose a chair (they usually choose themselves as it’s extroverts love this role), or worse a facilitator (who then dominates the discussion). This takes some time. You are all then asked introduce yourself to the rest of the group. Never ask participants to tell the others what they want to get out of the group, as there will always be one who drones on for hours. By now a good portion of the allocated time has been wasted. And what’s with Foxes Glacier Mints’ obsession?

The topic for discussion is usually some ill-defined, banal question, so the group spend a further ten minutes clarifying what’s expected. The time left is usually far too short to get anything meaningfully debated and agreed. Even then it’s often a random selection of thoughts, rants and personal beefs.

Feedback to group
Feedback to the group consists of a series of disjointed thoughts, often weighted towards the thoughts of the facilitator. These are scribbled up on acres of flipchart pages blue-tacked on the wall, thereby ruining the d├ęcor of the room. The problem here is that this is hardly ever distilled into any sensible points for action.

Don’t know about you but the chances of getting this distributed back (by email, posted on the website) is about
1:10 at best.

You’re generally left feeling short-changed. All of this supposed collaborative effort gets bogged down in procedural stuff and little is ever gained. What a waste of time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

500 reasons why I hate the office

Nice little book 'Why I Hate the Office' by Malcolm Burgess with some funny comments on why he hates training.

Training venues
“The venue must always look as if it’s been rejected by the Footballer’s Wives location manger as being to vulgar. If it’s Spanish-Ranchero-Georgian…you know you’ve got the right place”

Training course
“Another training course where staff have to tell colleagues they’ve sat next to each other for six years their names. Don’t forget the de rigeur warm up exercise that asks trainees which fruit or vegetable they identify with.”

Learning styles
“Geoff and Pam (trainers) claim to be responsive to everyone’s learning styles which is why they do a PowerPoint presentation and then read it out to the audience in case you, er, can’t read.”

“If coaching really works, why is the person your employer uses still hoping to move out of her garage? Whatever happened to their Unleashing Your Personal Power? We honestly think they’re keener to enter the ‘dependency situation’ than we are. Your coach will help you find your Way Ahead, and, if all else fails, you too can become a life coach just like everyone else.”

On dress codes for training courses
“Women are scared of anything that makes them look like Edwina Currie in civvies and keep to boring black; men usually end up in M&S chinos and look like they’re attending a barbecue in Weybridge

“It’s brainstorm hell in there as 35 people take six hours and 180 bottles of Badoit to decide the purpose of a meeting is to communicate.”

“it’s all about competencies – something has to justify your low salary. They’re designed to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet – just in case anyone shows a tendency towards creativity and expects to be paid for it”

“We’ve all done the assertiveness training (20 people in a meeting all saying, calmly and effectively, that they won’t do a thing).

“You do the induction course and receive the shiny handbook but wonder why none of it bears the slightest resemblance to what’s going on around you.”

“Trainers, incidentally, like to call themselves facilitators so they don’t have to take responsibility for what’s happening.”

Break-out groups
Brainstorming is just another name for flip-chart hell.”

Laugh or cry?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Marx and e-learning

What has Karl Marx to do with e-learning? Well, Marx showed, in the first chapter of Das Capital, that everything gets commoditised. What Marx understood was that commoditisation is not just about the depression of prices, it also has a profound political and social consequences. This is a relevant debate in education, training and e-learning.

Cheaper and faster
While I admire the efforts made by LINE Communications and Kineo to provide rapid development offers, we must be careful to see this as a useful service at the bottom end of the market and not the solution as a whole. It’s great that we can offer cheaper, faster content production by using smart tools, speedy processes and small teams. This is a very useful bottom layer in the market.

Tools not the real issue
However, a toolbox do
esn’t make you a builder, Word does not make a novelist, Excel doesn’t make an accountant, PowerPoint doesn’t make a presenter. Rapid Development Tools are not what makes Rapid development work, it’s having experienced people who can fast-track the writing, build and process. This is a state of mind.

Let’s push on with making the page-turning, basic stuff cheaper and faster, but let’s, at the same time, make sure we have quality content in the upper layers of the market with simulations, games and scenario-based learning.

Keen’s fascist outburst

Nice of the Online Educa organisers to give LINE Communications, a commercial organisation, a keynote. After watching Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur) give his rant against wikipedia, wikis and web 2.0 on the opening session of Day 1, I had the advantage of responding on the opening session of Day 2.

‘Monkeys, idiots and the inane’
Keen claimed that the web has been taken over by 14 year olds and amateurs, or in his own words “monkeys, idiots and the inane”. Hold on Andrew, this sounds dangerously fascistic, bad news in a
Berlin conference. I hadn’t planned to attack him but it sort of came to me when I was talking about Google. Anyone who sees Google, Wikipedia and blogging as three great evils, is chasing the wrong devils. There’s a debate here but there are other better thinkers than Keen in this area. Lanier’s Digital Maoism ideas are far more interesting and the detailed debate on blogs around quality content, spawned by the success of Wikipedia, is far more sophisticated.

Search and research
Unfortunately, Keen is not the debating sort. In my view there’s a great awareness among web users of the difference between ‘search’ and ‘research’. This is well covered in the education system and young people quickly learn to spot the difference. However, Keen served his purpose – he made everyone think a little.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Practice doesn't matter

Some time ago I was involved with an e-learning programme on coaching for the FA (Football, or soccer for US readers). I spoke to the guy a few years later who told me the programme had made a fortune for the FA, showing that branded, quality, niche, generic, e-learning content can make money.

Pathetic on practice
What was more interesting was his analysis of the ills in British football, exemplified by recent England performances. He explained that our heritage in sport was rooted in the public school system which valued 'games' but not 'practice'. To practice was seen as a form of 'cheating' old chap. So we like to play competitive sports, not practice to improve. This is so true. I've seen my kids get turned off football and rugby, despite being keen when younger, because it simply wasn't any fun playing on huge pitches with huge goals designed for six-foot goalkeepers. It was all about 'getting stuck in' with little real coaching. They gravitated towards Tae Kwon Do which is mostly practice, with occasional competitions, and flourished (for 4 years, four/five times a week, a clutch of medals, heading towards black belt next year).

Homework seen as cheating
A further reflection was around the issue of homework. Most parents I speak to with children in the state system are shocked at the lack of homework. Perhaps this has its roots in the same culture, that practice is wimpish, only for swats, and doesn't matter. The students who do lots of homework are the students who do well academically, it's as simple as that. They learn how to learn and develop intrinsic motication and discipline around learning. These students often hide the fact that they do stacks of work at home, for fear of being ridiculed. They learn to keep quiet about doing homework.

Homework creates autonomous learners. It teaches them to learn efficiently. It prepares students for the leaps from primary to secondary to tertiary education. It allows parents to contribute to their child's education and keep track of their progress. Looking back on my 50 years on this planet, most of what I learnt was in the quiet of my own room, not in classrooms. It's a shame that this valuable ethos is being abandoned.

Thinking in the box
There is, of course, another reason for the collapse of autonomous learning (homework) - the teaching profession's obsession with classroom-only learning. Like full-size pitches in football, they're too big, anonymous, impersonal. They strip the fun out of learning. Educational theorists and practitioners can only think in the box, that box being the Victorian classroom. This is why the main investment in technology was in whiteboards. A more cynical observer would say they simply can't be bothered marking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Loved this site. Such a simple idea. Answer questions, improve your vocabulary and help feed the poor.

What's interesting about the idea is the fact that obne can link a simple learning game to a worthy charitable cause, killing two birds with one stone. Think what could be done of basic literacy and numeracy were tackled this way.

Grains donated so far?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hirst's dead classroom

School: The Archaeology Of Lost Desires
Went to the Turner Retrospective at the Tate and had to laugh when I picked up The Guardian newspaper to see a full two-page colour picture of Damien Hirst’s latest megawork, ‘School: The Archaeology Of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity And The Search For Knowledge’.

It’s a mock classroom with three ranks of 29 students as dead, decapitated, skinned sheep in formaldehyde. A single shark lurks at the back of the class. At the front is a huge towering tank with 10,000 litres of formaldehyde. Inside a white dove flies within a metal cage. On either side lie two halves of a sliced cow, some sausages, an old leather armchair (also in formaldehyde), cabinets of pills and drugs and an open umbrella. All bought for $10 million.

So what of modern British art and school?
Art is usually reactionary and irrelevant when it comes to education. Books, with their Harry Potter, Enid Blyton, Just William imaginary boarding schools, a million miles away from the reality of school for the huge majority. (93% to be exact). Theatre is just as bad with the awful The History Boys, replaying that old public school tale of extraordinary master and his boys. Imagine if the pederasty in that play had been included in a play set in a comprehensive. The movies are not much better with Dead Poet’s Society. The notable exception is the wonderful Ferris Beuller.

Hirst’s is a working-class Leeds lad, with an ‘E’ in A-level art, rejected by every college he applied for he eventually got into Goldsmiths. His punky credentials are better than his education, a close friend of Joe Strummer and general bad boy himself, he really is a 21st century artist.

Class war
I think he’s got this nailed. The loss of identity, uniformity, submergence and deadening of life the classroom. The sheer tedium of it all – an 11, soon to be 13, year minimum sentence. The religious imagery of the caged dove as the teacher caught in a pseudo-religious preaching role. The shark is the lurking bully and the ever-present air of frightening violence that is typical of the school experience. Like the students the teacher is merely a larger trapped, farmed animal. The classroom is the mortuary of lost desires. The search for knowledge only emerging after you recover from its leaden effect.

Only a Hirst, a young working-class guy, could get under the skin of school in this way. If you’re in New York go see it – illuminated 24 hours a day and visible from the street.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Helicopter parents

40% hover!
These are US for parents who hover constantly above their kids and intervene to help them solve problems. A survey of first
year University students in the US showed that 40% of students had parents who directly intervened when there was a problem in their first year. About 13% of students said such intervention was frequent. Rather than being a break away from parental influence and control today’s kids seem to remain under their control for longer.

This also seems to be true of kids at school, where staff are finding and increased and often intense interest by many parents in their children’s day to day activity in school.

At first sight this may seem worrying, yet the survey exposes other findings:

Electronic communication fuels the interest

Well-educated parents aren't more likely to be helicopter parents

Helicopter parents are not just wealthier parents

Their children are more engaged in college life, happier and reporting getting more from the experience

However, those students do get lower grades!

On an entirely different note, students are spending the same amount of time studying as they reported in 2001, about 13-14 hours per week. That's about half the time faculty say they should be studying. What’s new!

Boomerang kids
An interesting corollary, and perhaps consequence of this interest, is ‘boomerang kids’, who keep returning home for accommodation and financial support.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Getting Things Done

I’ve never been one for self-help books, but this one kept on popping into my life. A personal recommendation, a review in a newspaper then a rave article in Wired Magazine. Forget the ‘things to do list’ (even with prioritised codes ABC), filofax, Outlook or time management courses – buy this book.

Too much stuff
Want to regain control of your life and the mess that is too much email, voicemail messages, piles of documents, endless work tasks and piles of bills to sort out. Or those movies you want to watch, books to read and personal projects whirling around in your mind. Allen calls all of this ‘stuff’, and he has a cure.

Sorting out stuff
Stuff is just stuff until you decide to act, so don’t manage stuff, manage actions. Clear the decks, get things off your mind. Lists and memory are both hopeless so Allen offers a neat one page algorithm, and amazingly specific advice. Think about what you have to do before you do it and don’t waste time on thinking about things you’re not going to do anything about for now. Capture and refine your decision making.

Collect in buckets
To capture you’ll need collection buckets – in trays, electronic and paper (he’s no technology only geek). Have as few of these as possible and empty the buckets regularly. Everything goes into a bucket but nothing gets put back into a bucket.

Deal with stuff
Is it actionable?

If NO a) trash it b) put it in a ‘someday’ folder c) archive as reference for retrieval when required.

If YES, “Will it take less than 2 minutes?” If YES – do it. If NO, delegate or defer to a) delegate b) defer to a calendar or next actions folder. Off the side are larger multi-step ‘projects’ where you’ll need plans and separate folders.

Organise your stuff
He gets practical on the need for folders, storage for physical files, a calendar and folders for actions.

Review regularly
Review weekly from 10,000 ft, especially your action lists, and clean them up. You’ve got to close those loops.

Do it detail
What I most like about the book was the simplicity of the basic model and the wealth of practical detail on specifics. Here’s a few choice tips (there’s dozens more):

Set aside a day to set up your system

Tackle with email in order from top to bottom

Do one at a time and don’t leave any in limbo

Have a cockpit of control – space in house (not shared)

Organise your ‘office space’ in transit

Buy basic tools – trays, folders, filing, elastic bands….

Get a filing system and labels

Don’t use colour-coded folders

Handle things once

Don’t have a ‘to file’ system

Don’t use ‘fat’ files as action files

Organise your desk and drawers

Clean out your files once a year

The real guts of the system is building your own ‘categories of action’ lists. My own happens to be; errands, home, computer, calls, travel, blogs, food/heath and leisure (films, books, websites, exhibitions and live events).

In the end it’s all about habits, the habits of dealing with stuff without thinking. All I can say is it worked for me. The trick for me was the use of a paper diary for my ‘collection buckets’ and ‘action lists’. Go do it – order on Amazon NOW, or at least add it to your action list.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Problem with maths - maths teachers

I suggested in my last post that algebra does more harm than good in teaching maths but there's another factor at work - maths teachers.

1. Maths needs to be enlivened by better than average teaching.
2. Maths teachers tend to be weak on social and communications skills.
3. Good mathematicians tend to do things other than teaching.

'Maths is boring' is the usual summation by kids at school. It's also the experience of most of us who went to school.

Maths graduates and specialists tend not to be great communicators, and if a subject that is admittedly as dry as maths is to be taught well should we consider using people who are high on communications skills and moderate on maths.

On top of this the subject can be enlivened by the use of good e-learning. Look at the success of Nintendo's Brain training - mostly simple arithmetic. people actually pay £100 for a console then £20 upwards for this simple piece of software that related maths to your life (brain age) - and its fun. The MyMaths site and Bitesize are also pretty good, better than much teaching I'm sure. Yet how much of this stuff is even known by teachers, never mind used.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Numeracy - counts for little

Is all this fuss around numeracy really warranted? I met a trainer in a government department who had to put his staff through a Level 2 numeracy test. He was surprised to find that many failed - as he regards them as good at their jobs.
The claim is that 13.5 million people are 'stressed out' by their poor numeracy. But when did you last hear anyone tell you that they're 'totally stressed about my algebra skills'. The second claim is that 15.1 million have poor numeracy skills (equivalent of G or below at GCSE). This made me think.
Is it right that the standard here is the Maths GCSE. I have known lots of happy, successful people who handle money and numbers and bets who have no GCSE in Maths.


While I accept that much of the 'number' content in the national Curriculum is sound, even here, knowing about prime numbers, square and cube roots etc seems remotely useful.

Shape and space

OK, working out the area of a rectangle I get - we all have to buy carpets and paint etc. But trigonometry? The volume of a sphere? Vectors? Transformations? It's mostly useless, except for a small minority of people.

Handling data

Some of this is useful but not all. Have you ever seen a stem or leaf table? Simple probability is fine - but calculating mutually exclusive events? It's over-engineered.


This is where it all goes wrong. Here's a quote from Roger Schank who looked into the dodgy history of why algebra became so embedded in curricula, "I'm a math major and a computer science professor, and algebra has never come up in my life, maybe it has in yours." I'd argue that little or nothing in algebra is useful for the vast majority of people in work. In fact it is so conceptually difficult and of such little practical use that most of us who master it forget it soon after we've passed the exam. When was the last time you used a simultaneous linear or quadratic equation?

Algebra is bad for our kids
Even worse, could algebra be damaging our kids approach t maths? I suspect that algebra is the single most damaging cause of poor numeracy. As soon as kids face this useless challenge they are turned off the subject. It kills any interest in maths stone dead. They instinctively kow that it's useless knowledge.

What counts can't always be counted
In truth we need a simple standard in the 'real world' application of maths that is free from the Maths GCSE. Simple mastery of arithemetic, calculating areas, percentages and reading graphs would do. We need to produce adults who love to learn, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school and algebra.

Talent management - rum business

I think we need an import ban on flaky HR ideas from the US. Talent Management is the latest HR bandwagons. Once the 'Leadership Training' bandwagon had run its course, its wheels stuck in the deep mud of fashionable indifference, HR had to find another rickety old vehicle to justify increasing scepticism about their usefulness.

Talent Management (really just Leadership in new clothes) is yet another reason for senior managers to spend oodles of cash on themselves . And don't think for one moment that this is an inclusive, company-wide scheme that involves ALL employees. It's really a filtering process for joining the Executive Club. Never trust those guys you see turn up to meetings, or at the airport, with their little Platinum, Gold or Silver 'Exec Club' tags hanging conspicuously on the outside of their combination-lock briefcases. They're in the same camp as those who wear mobiles on their belts or blazers with flat gold buttons on the cuffs.

If Talent Management really was meritocratic, then boards would advertise openly for members (they don't - in the UK it's mostly word-of mouth) and there would be transparency from top to bottom in recruitment, rewards and promotion. The city and UK senior management is full of old duffers, still wearing their broad diagonally striped school ties (I personally think this smacks of public school pederasty).

If Talent Management does have a role it would be to clear out people who are stuck in jobs they saw as temporary when they joined, and to move people on in terms of aspirations. All too often it's about keeping and not losing people. I like the LearnDirect idea of an independent Advice service advertised on TV that makes people think about their aspirations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Complaince killing training

Attended an small but excellent think-tank meeting on the future of learning in Government. It was sobering to hear how training departments are now so swamped by compliance training that little else is being done. We're so busy obsessing about the potential of employees to sexually harass, racially abuse, be biased on gender, discriminate on disability and negative on age, that they've little time to learn anything else.

How did it come to this? The training is not evaluated, and when large academic studies are done, they show no, or counterproductive, effects (Dobbins, Harvard). Yet, HR departments are compliant in this conspiracy. They willingly deliver bucket-loads of this stuff. Why? because it's easy. The driver is NOT learning or people development, it's 'fear'. It's a crude attempt to reduce risk by delivering crude courses, measured only by bums on seats, that do nothing more than protect organisations against their employees.

It's boring, people don't like it and it doesn't work. How bad can it get before we stop this madness?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Gave two talks on skills/education at the Conservative Party Conference (not my natural habitat). Not surprised that all parties have finally dumped Blackpool as a venue - it's the armpit of Britain, all fast food, barn-sized drinking parlours and dilapidated B&Bs.

Two-brains Willetts

First talk was with David Willetts, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Universities and Skills, around Leitch. The bottom line is that business and education/training have been drifting apart for years. Business wants quick solutions that meet their needs and don't have much time for the vast array of qualifications and agencies in the market. They're desperate for a system that's quicker, simpler and with less entities. More is less. Education and training, on the other hand, is obsessed with qualifications and the creation of entities. They're like two sides shouting at each other with megaphones across a vast chasm.

Back to school with Michael Gove
I had a spat with Michael Gove mid-afternoon. His example of how children need more maths/science was, and I quote, "In order to understand how electrons orbit around the nucleus children need to understand the Copernican system of planets rotating around stars". I urged him to get another example, as "the quantum positioning of electrons has nothing to do with the Copernican gravitational model". He was none too pleased and did a lot of finger wagging. He's all discipline, standards and back to basics. By the way Michael check the spelling on your home page - it's awful

Final talk
The final session was excellent. There was a great talk on the 'myth' of science/engineering graduates. John Hayes, the Shadow Minister for Skills was sound on the need for a proper careers and advice service but it was John Morton, CEO of the ETB that astonished us with some raw stats. We produce 17000 engineers a year and the number has been stable for 15 years. 50% of these never go near engineering as the starting salary is pretty low (barely keeping up with inflation). The failure is in the FE sector, where we don't produce enough trained technicians. In the last 3 years these trainees have dropped by 26%. He saw the problems as lying elsewhere in our lack of innovation, entrepreneurship and our failure to celebrate success.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Online lectures big HIT on iTUNES

MIT’s Professor Lewin has proves a smash hit with his online physics lectures. “It sounds arrogant, I know, but it’s better to see a first class lecture on video than a mediocre one in the flesh”.

Use the FREE stuff because it’s better. This is a simple solution to a massive problem. Students are already voting with their fingers and dumping their third-rate, real, local lectures for first-rate, online, global lectures. The same can apply to most standard teaching and training lectures.

The traditional model is to have poor lectures which are never recorded. The very idea of not giving students a second bite of the cherry is absurd. If you were a journalist or novelist, you wouldn’t dream of standing up and only giving people one chance to hear your work. Publishing has been around since the 15th century, it’s about time teaching and training caught up.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Professor pans 'learning style' teaching

Despite the complete lack of scientific evidence for learning styles it seems to have gathered force through recent efforts on 'personalised' learning. This is suicidal. The whole education and training world continues to present itself as half-baked and gullible on theory.

I presented the Coffield research on learning styles at a coaching conference recently and received an abusive email from Peter Honey (who was in the audience). After an exchange of emails on the scientific evidence on learning styles he went strangely silent. He did admit, however, that there was no scientific evidence to back up his theory - the famous Honey and Mumford model.

Here's another serious, qualified and sensible voice in the telegraph attacking their use in schools and training.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Wiimotes and training

It was bound to happen. The Wii controller, the Wiimote, is now being used in training simulations. There’s no doubt that this is a breakthrough technology where the input device fits the user, not the interface. Wired magazine has reported on projects in power plants, medical devices, pest-control and driving simulations. Some of these projects are placed in Second Life, others use Google Maps and Google Earth. In the driving simulation they use real accident blackspots to teach safe driving.

Simulations have been around for a long time. The difference now is that they are possible for a fraction of the price as games technology and games authoring software (Caspian learning) has plummeted. What the Wiimote gives you is hands-on manipulation and experience.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Frumpy netiquette

Journalist Stuart Jeffries visciously attacked the young today, calling them ‘illiterate slobs’ and ‘sub-articulate chimps’ in The Guardian. Why? Just because they don’t capitalise, tend to shorten words, and use emoticons in emails and messenger! What a daft old bugger.

Reverse ageism
This is reverse ageism or ‘youngism’. These online media have more in common with conversation than letters. Jeffries, a journalist, is simply hankering after the world he knows best – communication on paper. Users of new media don’t see email as letters-on-screen. It’s more like speech than writing, full of hesitations, asides, jokes - the sharper and snappier the better. Have you ever heard of someone stopping a conversation in mid-sentence saying, ‘Sorry, you misses an apostrophe there, it should have been a plural possessive with the apostrophe after the ‘s’?

Frumpy netiquette
Jeffries belongs to the frumpy, Lynn Truss school of literacy etiquette and quotes all sorts of etiquette and netiquette maniacs. The Truss book was devoured by those who think that, not knowing the twenty different ways to use a comma means having lost your moral compass. Older people tend to want to cling on to quaint ways in digital communication. They’d like us to stick doggedly to Dear Mr X…Yours sincerely/faithfully… (Is there anything less faithful or sincere than these terms?). He quotes one bizarre netiquette advisor who recommends ending emails with, ‘At your service…’ and ‘Virtually…’. One is stupidly servile, the other ridiculous.

Young people often prefer texts to speech on mobiles, not just because it’s cheaper, but because it’s better and shorter, more like dialogue, and more fun. They don’t shorten the words because they’re lazy or want to annoy their parents, it’s just easier to type in, and read at the other end on a small screen. It has nothing to do with standards of literacy.

One could argue that it indirectly promotes illiteracy. In fact, research from the University of Nottingham has shown that good texters have high levels of literacy. The most fervent texters turned out, surprisingly, to have the highest scores on traditional literacy tests. It is thought that it supports a deep phonetic understanding of the structure of language, essential for good literacy and spelling.

You’ve really got to use this medium to get a feel for its unique form of dialogue. You’ll soon find yourself abandoning correct spelling, transposed letters in words due to poor keyboard skills and ditching punctuation and capitalisation. It’s the communication that counts. We don’t punctuate and capitalise in speech and similarly in messenger.

An added dimension in messenger, is the ability to link to images, sound and video, and other web sites, while conversing. This can enrich a conversation in a way that is impossible when you are not online. It’s a hybrid of online and offline communication where the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole.

Emoticons, in particular, drive older people crazy. Yet, in messenger, and in email, they can add some fun, even nuance, to the message. They work better in messenger, as it really is a form of conversation, not written communication. I suspect it’s because the middle England is uncomfortable with expressions of emotional intimacy that they react so badly to what is seen by young people as a blatant bit of fun.

Letters are mostly bills or junk
When I come back from holiday, I have to wade through ankle deep junk mail. This is what the world of letters has descended to, envelopes designed to trick and con you into opening them (disguised as official communication), crass design and promises of non-existent prizes. Letter writing is now the art of older, marketing people selling to other older people, the only group still hanging onto the joys of opening an envelope. My kids never open junk mail. Only older people look at this stuff.

Even worse, letter writing has become synonymous with polite extortion through bills and bad news. Utilities companies and banks will send incredibly polite letters correctly headed with appropriate warm greetings and sign offs, while they rip into you with excessive charges and penalties. They’ll mug you, albeit with high quality prose.

Renaissance of writing
Never in history have so many young people written so much to so many on a daily basis, almost obsessively communicating through written language. The fact that it doesn’t conform to some outdated, linguistic idea of language, frozen in time (always your time) is not the point. They understand the fluidity of language, are fully expressive and live in the context of bountiful, online, social networks we older people can barely imagine.

When I was young I barely wrote a word that wasn’t formal homework or the occasional letter to a penpal, which took weeks, both sides giving up through sheer boredom. We have gone from formal and occasional to informal and hourly communication in the space of a generation. More power to their texting elbows.

Language changes, shifts, expands its vocabulary, drops its dead wood and develops through new dialects. We should celebrate this diversity, not squeeze the life out of it by making it conform to some home counties, Trussed-up idea of etiquette. Resistance, even that most fascistic form the French Resistance (Academie Francaise) who have tried, in vain, to fossilise and protect language, is futile. Language lives, breathes and progresses.

Baby-boomers reflect
We baby-boomers ought to reflect on our propensity to blame the young for a drop in standards. We’re the people who have trashed the planet, treating it like a playground and dumping ground, not them. They’ve got it sussed. Why destroy the planet for the sake of having paper conversations? Get online and help save the planet rather than complaining in wasteful newsprint about something you don’t understand.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Left brain Right brain - a myth

Deliberately misleading
An excellent post from Clive Shepherd points to an article on neuroscientific myths and their detrimental effect on education and training. The one that has always disturbed me is the deliberately misleading ‘left-right brain’ theory. It has been used to support endless tracts telling us that we should liberate ourselves from too much left-brain ‘logical’ thinking and enjoy the fruits of our liberated, right-brained creativity.

Psychology or phrenology?
Are you right (creative) or left (logical) brained? In fact, you’re both. The right/left brain myth resulted from split-brain research in the 60s, now largely rejected. People and their brains can no longer be characterised or caricatured as right and left brainers. This is now seen as a primitive form of simplistic labelling, or phrenology.

Neurology, through scanning, shows a very different, and complex, picture. Research now sees the distinction between the two hemispheres as being very subtle. Every mental faculty seems to be shared across the brain, with complementary contributions. It is the combination, not separation, that matters. The mutually exclusive model has all but disappeared from the literature.

Right brain good, left brain bad
False analogical leaps were made from simple linguistic tests and surgical experiments to strict dichotomies between reason and creativity, linear and holistic, eastern and western thought – left and right brain. Unfortunately the left-brain, right-brain model still flourishes in populist self-help and pop-psychology books, courses and products. The line taken is often one of the dominant, left, rational brain censoring the poor, artistic, creative right side, to the detriment of the person and society.

Just as star signs belong to astrology, not astronomy, split-brain theories belong to phrenology, not psychology.

Friday, June 01, 2007


Want to see the future?
Watch this. Mindblowing demo. Just watch - you get it immediately.

Regarded as the technology talk of the year at TED. The first demo is fantastic, then comes the 3D image of Notre Dame Cathedral taken from ordinary Flickr images. Also astonishing. The implications are that socially created data can be used to create something even greater. Masses of hyperlinks are used to create deeper meaning - amazing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ARG! TV infected by web

The BBC have bought US TV hit Heroes and in one episode there's a three second clip with a 0800 number on a business card. Phone the number and you’re sucked into an Alternate Reality game (ARG).
ARGs are like treasure hunts, where a phone call leads to a TXT message which leads to a website and so on. They go back to the movie AI, and have become part of the viral marketing movement. And don’t think they’re small beer, Halo 2’s ‘ilovebees’ had nearly 2 million players. Pirates of The Caribbean and Dead Man’s Chest also have ARGs. They extend the storyline of the film or TV programme and are likely to become serious extensions to many future films and TV programmes.

Heroes 360
An automated answering service
directed viewers who called Primatech to apply for a job. Applicants received emails from other employees that, along with text messages, sent them to Web-based puzzles. Once solved, these revealed background details about Mr. Benett's decision to turn against his employer.

Viewers of the online series are asked directly by the show's characters to aid in puzzle-based tasks. (They can also pick up on subtler clues within each episode.) Players who assist the cast are acknowledged on the show; those who publicly reveal clues and answers sometimes end up aiding the show's villains.

The Lost Experience
During the final episodes of season two, Lost creators ran ads for the Hanso Foundation. Viewers who called the onscreen number were routed to a Web site to find a possible Hanso conspiracy. Those who solved the puzzle learned the origin of the Dharma Initiative and other secrets (no, we're not going to reveal them).

Puzzles and productivity

Casual gaming The mass market, family or casual gaming market delivered through MSN Games, WorldWinner, Pogo and Yahoo Games is often ignored when discussed by the Serious games crowd, but it may be just as interesting in the long term than full blown immersive games. This whole market is widening out to include immersive (such as Caspian Learning), casual, puzzles, gambling, PC and console.

Puzzles reduce stress, increase focus, improve productivity
34% of 500 people polled by puzzle game provider Worldwinner said they play during working hours and 52% of these play periodically across the day. Bad news surely? Maybe not:

72% thought it reduced workplace stress
76% thought that it improved their productivity
80% felt they ‘feel better focused’

Of the games played, more than 60% of workers who play games during their day use brain teasers, including puzzle and strategy games. “When I need a break during the workday, I often turn to online skill games to recharge my brain,” stated WorldWinner player Jeff R. “I’ve found that taking a few minutes and challenging myself with a word game, puzzle or card game can really boost my productivity; I return to work with a fresh perspective and improved creativity. Playing games also gets me revved up before starting a big project – especially when I win.”

Casual gamers mainstream
Casual gaming is mainstream and tends to reflect a more general demographic. The mass market, family or casual gaming market has many more adults and women. Specifically, 61 percent of players are over the age of 35, 35 percent are over 45, and almost 9 percent are over 55.

MSN Games has a high proportion of female gamers, and is constantly adding content to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Specifically, 2 of 3 players on MSN Zone and RealArcade are women, 55% of Pogo players are women and 70% of AOL game players are women (publicly quoted statistics). Published data supports the core demographic to be 60% females, ages 24-54. It's known that females tend to like puzzle games, which comprise a lot of the "casual" game market. Why older people and women? They are less intimidating, short, less violent, easy to learn (you don’t need a manual), low cost barrier to entry; free trials, and a different form of marketing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Video test

1. Watch this video.

2. Count separately the ‘IN THE AIR’ and ‘BOUNCE’ passes made by the WHITE team.

It’s hard. Try it.

Now click on comments.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Does Futuremedia have a future?

This month three Directors resigned (10 May) attracting a delisting notice from NASDAQ as their audit committee needs at least three independent Directors.

The share price has also plunged to 64 cents this week, which will attract a further notice, as it's below the one dollar NASDAQ mark.

This is on top of the 1:50 share split that recently, massively devalued the shares.

Futuremedia were a real force in the industry in the days of the excellent Peter Copeland. Recently they seem to have survived by the skin of their teeth (all credit to them for this alone), but things are not looking good. They are worth far less than the price of any one of their acquisitions and the 'poundshop' share price is hardly an incentive for those who took paper in deals , or who have options. Redundancy notices are also being circulated. This is not looking good.

Bogus training graphs

Ever seen this graph, or one like it? It’s bogus.

I saw this graph resurface at a BBC event on learning recently (by someone who had written a book on adult learning). I thought this graph had been put to bed some time ago. Clearly not.

Units of ten!
A quick glance is enough to be suspicious. Any study that produces a series of figures bang on units of ten would seem highly suspicious to someone with the most basic knowledge of statistics, and even a passing acquaintance with learning theory is enough to dismiss the comparisons outright. Learning what? Learning to read? Riding a bike? Understanding a written passage in Aristotle? Learning is a complex business. This is simplistic nonsense.

Good detective work
You can read the whole strange tale on Will Thalmheimer's site:

The lead author of the cited study, Dr. Chi of the University of Pittsburgh, a leading expert on ‘expertise’ when contacted by Thalheimer said, "I don't recognize this graph at all. So the citation is definitely wrong; since it's not my graph." What’s worse is that this image and variations of the data have been circulating in thousands of PowerPoints, articles and books since the 60s.

Further bogus additions
Further investigations of these graphs by Kinnamon ((2002). Personal communication, October 25.) found dozens of references to these numbers in reports and promotional material. Michael Molenda ( (2003). Personal communications, February and March.) did a similar job. Their investigations found that the percentages have even been modified to suit the presenter’s needs. The one here is from Bersin. Categories have even been added to make a point (e.g. that teaching is the most effective method of learning).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stuff and stuffiness

Flood from bottom up
At a dinner last night, I heard of some wonderful stuff happening around the whole web 2.0 thing with blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums, FAQs, games rising like a flood from the bottom up. Eveyone agreed that this was a major force in learning and that it is irreversible. Orgnisations are up to their ankes, sometimes knees, even their waists in this stuff. It's not a rising tide, as tides go out - it's a flood.

These were senior learning folk from a major oil and gas company, travel company, consultancy, institute, police and large public provider of e-learning. They were all of one avoice about the power and now teh evience that this stuff has taken route and bubbling up in organisations.

Clive Shepherd has written a funny and informative post showing how far off the mark the CIPD is in terms of seeing what is happening within companies on learning, mainly because its members can't see past their own narrow delivery of 'courses'. They don't so much have their finger on the pulse as their fingers on their own pulses - and there's little sign of life. Everywhere I go I see traditional training being pushed back into the corner of compliance while people get on with the task of sharing in order to 'get the job done'.

Stuff and stuffiness
All of this social networking, blogging, wikis etc has become a way of life, and young employees simply expect this stuff. Recruitment sites are full of blogs and web 2.0 inspired ideas and content. We heard an interesting tale of a young high flier literally walk out of the door on day one as he encountered the training department's stuffy and uninspiring induction dump.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Everything is Miscellaneous

READ this NOW. Famous for being one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto (still a good read 7/8 years later) Weinberger digs deep into one of the most important issues of the day - the inherent messiness of data.

One of the few people in IT who really does understand the post-Wittgenstinian, post-Quine world of language and the corrigibility of knowledge. This is the deep root behind all of this web 2.0 stuff - the mess is the message.

Metacrap – the metadata myth

The mess is the message
I have long be;lieved that the standards police have been wasting millions (usually flying to long meetings in exotic locations) while the world ignores their blinkered schemas. Wonderful article from Doctorow (thanks again to Seb Schmoller) on why metadata has turned out to be a top-down, hopelessly utopian, mythical solution.

People lie
Metadata won’t stop people doing their own thing and undermining your metadata or using it to sell porn or any other damn thing that comes into their head – metadata is a spammers’ paradise.

People are lazy
People forget to send attachments, miss subject fields in emails and generally don’t tagand can’t spell – most folk are far too lazy to metatag.

People are stupid
Metadata standards rely on more basic standards in spelling, punctuation and grammar. These have been abandoned by most web users.

Mission: Impossible - know thyself
People are bad at describing their own behaviour. Nielsen’s log books showed families watching documentaries and Sesame Street. The set-top box data showed they were really watching naked midget wrestling and car-chase programmes.

Schemas aren't neutral
Classifications are fuzzy and hierarchies do not describe the real world. Try doing this for any concept and you’ll run into disputes and blurred boundaries.

Metrics influence results
Standards people want to promote their stuff through their metrics and think that everyone else is wrong. They’re usually wrong. Everybody else is also wrong. It’s all very messy.

There's more than one way to describe something
"This isn't smut, it's art." Language use is inherently vague.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Google blog search

Google's blog search is blisteringly fast and effective. I've started using it rather than my bookmarks to favourite blogs or other links.


Coaching costs
Averse as I am to the idea of Life Coaches, I do see how focus on a person’s goals can help motivate and direct action. The problem with coaching is quite simply the cost. It’s an expensive non-scalable resource that won’t fly in any other context than the higher ends of the management spectrum.

I therefore rather like the eCoach idea under development by the Fraunhofer Institute for Communications Systems in Munich. It uses mobile phone TXT messages to keep you on track with whatever goals are selected. This could be study for a course, weight loss, exercise…whatever. It sounds to me as if this gets round the ‘pay through the nose for a friend’ accusation with Life Coaches.

The system is adaptive, pushing out more motivational messages if you start to slack. It does rely on the honesty of the participant to provide data on progress, but then again, you’re only fooling yourself if you cheat. I do think there’s a future for this type of motivational PUSH using technology.

Spaced practice
I have always believed in the spaced practice model of e-learning using reinforcement techniques across time to shunt acquired knowledge and skills into long-term memory. Everything in the psychology of learning says this should work. The only problem is one of habituation, where you start to ignore what’s delivered.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Click and learn

Better than whiteboards
‘Clickers’ get students to respond to questions by the teacher/lecturer/trainer. The results are shown via a laptop and projector. They’re not new but cheap, easy to set-up and easy to use. I rate these above whiteboards in a classroom. Attention is the BIG problem in large classes. Clickers keep students on their mental toes. Not only do teachers make their lessons more question-led, encouraging critical thinking, the students are also made to think and respond through regular formative feedback. This directly addresses the ‘attention-deficit’ issue in large classes.

There are dozens of example of clicker-use in schools and higher education. "It's a way of presenting material that provokes questions and discussions, as opposed to simply teaching or lecturing," says Tom Haffie from the University of Western Ontario. "More questions lead to more critical thinking and community building. A single question can tailor what I'm going to say for the next 15 minutes."

Teachable moments
Haffie says clickers tend to create "teachable moments" when the class is engaged with the material, curious about the diversity of responses, perhaps willing to discuss issues with peers and ripe for their understanding to be refined.

Broadcollecting, not broadcasting
"I like to refer to it as broadcollecting as opposed to broadcasting," says Haffie. "It raises the quality of thinking in the classroom on the fly. It creates a great opportunity for interaction with peers, not just instructors."

Students think it improves learning
An overwhelming 87 per cent said clickers facilitate learning while 65 per cent said they influence how they prepare for class and for the mid-term tests (62 per cent).