Monday, December 13, 2010

10 lessons learnt at WISE in Doha

Loved the speedy little birds that darted back and forth in front of the speakers and across the heads of the crowd at the WISE conference in Doha, Qatar. A good omen, as Twitter was to prove pretty useful. Symptomatic of the old world versus the new was the constant reminders to ‘switch off your mobiles’. How are we meant to tweet and collaborate, if not through the technology? For those Twitter sceptics – remember that this was how many who couldn’t get to Doha knew what was happening.

This culture clash surfaced time and time again at the conference, characterised by 10 Manichean oppositions;

1. Monologue v dialogue

2. Global v local

3. Private v public

4. Closed v open

5. Teaching v learning

6. Religious v secular

7. Old practice V new science

8. Assessment v attainment

9. Horizontal v vertical

10. 20th C v 21st C.

Contention is good, and perhaps we could redefine the dialogue next year by having these oppositions as themes, to stimulate debate and discussion and a forward looking dynamic.

1. Monologue v dialogue

Nima, our earnest BBC host for the next three days was being very ‘presenterish’ with lots of pregnant pauses. I personally think she’d be better off not using a script fed through an earpiece, as it makes her sound inauthentic. I met her later, and she’s quite informal and good fun. This is, perhaps, the problem with education, all too often a series of earnest, didactic monologues, rather than dialogues. But I liked her “Who dares teach must never cease to learn”.

The format of educational conferences, with their endless speeches from the great and the good is a bit tired. Are future problems really going to be solved through lectures - or discussion? Don’t get me wrong, this was a great event, but the real action was among the hundreds of amazing delegates, rather than the speakers. Too many simply read from notes or described their own pet projects. Few addressed global problems head-on.

Nima introduced a stellar series of video introductions including Kofi Annan, Nancy Pelosi, Ellen MacArthur and others, with lots of effusive congratulations on winning 2022 FIFA World Cup bid. This would remain a three day theme, although I’m not sure what it has to do with education. Although, as I was staying in Zidenine Zidane’s room in the ‘W’ Hotel, an almost religious experience, I didn’t mind. If education were as popular as football, we’d be pleased as punch. In any case, the Qatar 2022 win was a real force for good among 1.3 billion people in the Islamic world.

Lessons learnt 1: More dialogue not monologue

Encourage people to use their mobiles and Twitter, don’t let speakers read from written scripts, have more head to head debates, more organised discussions.

2. Global v Local

Martin Burt, from Paraguay, laid siege to the idea that traditional schooling was suitable for the majority of the world’s poor. Just building schools is not the solution – people LEAVE schools and drop out of schools. How is quality education to be funded when governments lack resources? You can’t just say give us more money. Money in education has doubled but results not doubled. Too many children just get ‘schooled’ then leave into a life of poverty. They aren’t taught the skills they really need to improve their lives. He wanted to inject entrepreneurial spirit back into school by linking the curriculum to work and business start-ups. Learn maths so that you can understand a break-even point.

In Paraguay, a vocational school built by aid was closed down as the government wouldn’t pay for teachers. They turned around this school by delivering entrepreneurial and vocational skills. Students learn how to DO things; how to deal with public, set up shops, manufacture jam, do the maths for breakeven points. This addresses relevancy, motivation and aspiration – hence the zero dropout. It appeals to the dignity of the poor people they serve. They learn to earn.

Now he has a point, but as many delegates pointed out, the model can’t be used across education a whole. The point is not to turn everyone into ‘little capitalists’.

For example, the Chinese government are investing massively in online for science and technology by 2020. Innovation matters through pedagogical reforms. 100 key academic higher institutions have been identified as the key to China’s development, as they need high quality human capital. We saw examples from Haiti, New Orleans, Pakistan, Denmark, UK, Africa – all with different needs and political contexts.

The lesson here is not to blindly import models from one system to another. I spoke to a guy in Guatemala who described Mormon archaeology and US Christian education in Mayan ruins, hugely resented by the local Mayan population. Another delegate, from rural Brazil, thought Burt’s ideas were OK but no real solution for education as a whole in most countries.

The lessons learnt from post-Katrina New Orleans, were that the trauma of disaster had become the catalyst for change. He saw education as a marathon not a sprint. Good line, I thought, but it’s mostly a treadmill. Similarly in the presentation from Haiti, where a new approach is arising like a Phoenix from the ashes of disaster. In both cases, the previous systems were moribund and broken. Only time will tell, whether these newer approaches, involving Charter Schools and fresh government policies will work.

Lesson learnt 2: Global v local – one size doesn’t fit all

There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for either funding or curriculum choices. It depends on the political, economic and cultural context.

3. Private v Public

Strong voices were heard from the private sector lobby, some of whom (Microsoft, CISCO) has sponsored the conference, about the failure of the public sector to deliver. We heard from the World Bank about Human Capital Banking. Yes, I felt more than a little disgust at the term. His idea was to raise money through a Global Education Bond, like carbon trading. My doubts include the political stance the World Bank takes in these circumstances. However, if it could be offset against debt, we may get somewhere.

But, as one delegate stated from the floor, we must move beyond this simple private v public argument. The private sector has just been bailed out by the public sector. If education is the way out of the current crisis why did crisis start in most educated countries? What went wrong in those top Universities & business schools? We were led astray by a highly educated elite. Education could be accused of causing the problem.

3. Lesson learnt: Private v Public – it’s not a war

Both sides have their faults, and in reality education is, and should be, a mixed economy. Above all, it should match the goals it sets and not be overly politicised.

4. Closed v Open

Imagine a future where there’s access to free education and resources for everyone. A future where learning and assessment are free. A future free from institutional protectionism. Education is largely delivered through formal instruction in expensive institutions; schools, colleges, Universities etc. Contrast this with the way we actually access knowledge in the real world; Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, OER.

We’ve had 3 generations of open learning, the attempt to open education up to new people, places, methods and ideas. Gen 1: No entry qualifications – the massification of education through print/radio/TV. Gen 2: Web, blended and flexible approaches. Open access. Gen 3: OER – open resources – knowledge a public good. Initiatives include: CORE – China, LIPHEA – East Africa, OER Africa, JOCW Japan, The Vietnam Foundation, Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth, Open Learn.. OER promises much more than it currently delivers in terms of shaking up the status quo.

Cecilia d’Olivera Exec Director of MIT Opencourseware explained that OER is more than traditional course materials, it’s also online textbooks, online lectures, online games, complete online courses, software, virtual labs. But at heart it’s really about these c-words – consortia, community, collaboration, copyright cleared content and courseware.

OER initiatives include: Connexions Curriki – collaborative platforms. Khan Academy – 1600 free Youtube resources for younger learners – non-profit. NPTEL – India. Flat World Knowledge – open textbooks with a business model. Online Learning Initiative – full online courses Carnegie Mellon. OU – led to explosion in rest of world but not UK. UNISA. Athbasca. The list goes on and on.

MIT’s traffic is 1.5 million visits per month, so that 70 million have used the content to date. Fewer than 10% are educators, Self-learners 43%, Students 42%, Educators 9%, Others 6%. The dominant use is the advancement of personal knowledge at 46%. Guy from Taiwan translated MIT courseware to through network around the world by crowdsourcing. So what explains the failure of institutions to take advantage of this?

Cecilia suggests that it needs to be easier to find and that language is still a barrier. Sorry, but I don’t buy this. It takes seconds to find this stuff on Google. Fact is, they don’t want to use it. NIH (Not Invented Here) is the real barrier to use. Sure content isn’t enough; we need other services – study groups, certification, assessment etc. But what we really need is an embrace by government. This is happening in China and India.

Prof VN Rajasekharan Pillai gave us the run down on IGNOU Open Course Portal - 40,000 text, 1600 videos, 80,000 users, one of world’s largest educational resource repositories with a special YouTube channel. Anyone can register and use resources, there are no entry qualifications, no restriction on duration – you only pay for certification – the revolution is here.

This is driven by huge demand. By 2020 India needs to provide employability skills to 500 million! The only way to satisfy this demand is through unconventional ideas. OER will transform education, so we need sustainability plans for these initiatives. People will use it if people see advantages for themselves. This means Open Assessment combined with Open Courseware. Knowledge and learning are trapped inside accrediting institutions. Until we break that mould we’ll be pricing learning out of the hands of the masses, especially the poor.

We need acceptance, not sniffy elitist statements about quality from the current establishment. This is happening, take the OU in the UK, now the largest University in the UK, or NIIT in India – it just takes time. Even in traditional system there’s a hierarchy and brand marketing. It took Oxford and Cambridge a thousand years to develop their brand – give it time – it’s a marathon not a sprint. Let’s not keep it as a treadmill.

OER needs to focus less on Universities and more in schools, further education and adult education. Openschooling already uses distance learning and free content with 20 subject areas in Africa. Other examples are Hippocampus, Monterey and Currici with 50-60k users per month accessing MIT content in schools.

We could also use the OER model for teacher training – that will act as agent for immediate global change, with more teachers being trained quicker and cheaper. Online teacher training has already started through Hibernia in Ireland and the UK. There certainly needs to be more off campus, not contact, models. The trend is for both, that’s the future.

Lesson learnt 4: Closed v open - Private money should be targeted at Open Resources

Education is a closed shop. Technology opens it up. Rather than funding schools and schooling, let’s fund the future model of open resources in the global classroom. In OER we are at the end of the beginning – so what’s about the next ten years? How do we turn this all into a quality education? Quality of teachers a big issue. Training, retraining and CPD – that is the challenge- at all levels. Above all OER needs to move from the development of materials to use of materials.

5. Religious v secular

The star of the first plenary, for me, was a challenge from Dr Ben Achour on how education (or lack of it – I’m not sure which) can cause mayhem. First the brutal murder of men, women and children in their Christian church in Iraq. Second, the “prison or concentration camp” that is Gaza, where he saw 8-10 year olds being taught in a sweltering sea container, as the Israeli embargo on building materials prevented schools from being rebuilt. Surely, he reminds us, that denying children education, or educating them in hatred is not the way forward.

Right from the start this raised a key question for me. Should education be secular? Christian fundamentalism in North and South America, Islamic studies as a compulsory school subject in the Middle East, Ultra-orthodox Judaism in Israel – are they really such forces for good?.

In the next session Charles Clark, a UK Minister for Education, who introduced Whiteboards wanted to see education cast its net forward, not back. He admitted that there was always a tension in education between going back or forward, mentioning Gove’s recent mad policy of reintroducing Latin into UK schools, which is going back 2000 years! However, his suggestions were more ‘status quo’. Nothing really new: look at system holistically, quality of teachers counts (not class sizes) accountability etc. Although he did mention the importance of ‘work experience’ and thought that the gap between education and work was too wide. His parting shot was an appeal for more focus on pedagogy – but he left it there and I’m not sure that he had any more to offer on that issue.

My question to the panel was, “If, as Charles claimed, education must cast its net forward, and not backwards, then is religious education in schools a forward or backward step? Should education be in the business of opening up young minds and not closure?

Only Charles answered, but he fudged it. “Well, there’s good and bad religious education…….” If we continue to fudge like this, rather than challenge and discuss assumptions we’ll get nowhere.

Lesson learnt 5: Religious v secular – keep education secular

It is often assumed that all education is good, it is not. Much religious fundamentalist education, in any religion, is bad. My own view is that we educate for autonomy, and that education should be secular. What a bold step this would be for an international organisation to state, rather than accept education as indoctrination.

6. Teaching v learning

On the final day, while young people were rioting in London and attacking a Royal’s car shouting “off with their head” we were talking about ‘teaching’ not ‘learning’. Putnam was right to say the young no longer trust us, and that we need to win back their trust.

However, if we had a Wordle slide for the whole conference, the largest two words would be ‘teachers’ and ‘teaching’. There was too little talk about’ learners’ and ‘learning’. I know it’s an old chestnut, but it signals a failure to move on. To be fair the Conference gave the Learner’s Voice group, 24 students, a stand, but they themselves were shocked at the lack of real collaboration. They were really active on twitter, videoing delegates (including me) and asking smart questions from the floor. We could have done with a few of them on the stage.

Typical of the teacher-oriented adults was the Microsoft guy, who really only related a couple of anecdotes, and talked mostly about classrooms and teachers. (CISCO did the same.) The plural of anecdotes is not data. He did have a useful suggestion - use student driven learning, namely learning outside of the classroom. On student assignments, he claimed that most teachers don’t know how to do this – too true. But let’s be clear, the future of technology in learning is NOT Microsoft, Cisco and Intel, it’s Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter and OER.

Lesson learnt 6: Teaching v learning – more about learners and learning

Think more about learning and learner voices, not teaching and teachers. Think OER, Wikipedia, Google and Social Networking, NOT Microsoft, CISCO and Intel.

7. Old practice V new science

Educators largely assume that our experience and common sense guides us well and tells us all we really need to know. Sorry, we need to wake up. However, the session on cognitive science was a case study on how not to impart information. The three presenters simply presented their incredibly narrow research areas or jobs, and provided little in the way of real and practical advice for practitioners. There were two interesting presentations on ‘plasticity’ and ‘natural pedagogy’. The problem here was that both were presented in isolation, and seemed to contradict each other. In fact they don’t. The mind is NOT a tabula rasa, completely open to plastic change through formal and informal learning. That’s taking us back to a behaviourist agenda. The mind is prepared and hard-wired to learn.

Education and health are the two main pillars of public spending but while medicine demands objective, evidence-based [proof before use; education wallows in a sea of pseudoscience and pop-psychology (learning styles, Maslow, NLP. Mozart effect, R/L brain theories). Half a century of cognitive science is now ready to be used. We know a lot about memory, deep processing, elaboration, reinforcement, practice and media selection but we apply very little of this.

Why does educational psychology seem to have lost its way lack impact? A question from the floor nailed the problem: teacher training. Questionable selection techniques, practice in the absence of evidence, and lecture based courses the norm. This is the fulcrum around which new approaches to learning could be delivered, but the courses are fossilised.

Barbara Wanchisen of the National Research Council recommended The reports are free e.g. How people learn, Knowing what students know etc. Although science evolves on its own, there are serious roadblocks: laws, large population to reach, tension between communities. The exception seems to be the military, who really do absorb and apply cognitive science. Other resources are

Lesson learnt 7: Old practice V new science – revolutionise teacher training

We need to weed out old theory and practice and feed the system with fresh findings from science and research. This means reshaping teacher training around learners and learning, not just teaching.

8. Assessment v attainment

Do we need an OECD Nuclear Arms race in education? Is it wise to create league tables at a national and international level? Do they create a rising tide or do they create a great deal of angst and rushed policies?

This 4th round of PISA covers 65 countries in a 3 yearly assessment of 15 year olds, with between 3,500 and 15,000 samples from each country i.e. over 400,000 students.

Conclusion 1 – socially equitable education systems do best. Curiously, the PISA results, released during the conference, confirmed that open competition in education is not a driver for improved performance. Doesn’t this put into question the very PISA approach to the quantification of education? In the UK, successive governments have been keen to use PISA as evidence for action, but selectively. Now that PISA has shown that equitable systems are best, will they promote this as policy? Of course not. They will cherry pick as usual.

Conclusion 2: Money is NOT the determining factor in educational performance – it explains only 10% of output. Was increased spending matched by better outcomes, not generally, apart from S Korea, who switched from small elite to a more equitable approach.

Conclusion 3: The top performer is Shanghai (not even a country) based on its innovative, forceful collaborative approach to schools development, something in which few other countries excel. They paired good and bad schools, have no group learning within their classrooms and focus on complete classroom discipline.

PISA has some useful signposts but it’s as skewed as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, when it comes to data and conclusions. Small countries are clustered at the top. Indeed there seems to be a correlation between size and homogeneity of country and results. The outputs like the tower are tall and narrow, focusing on reading, maths and science. It quantifies what is easiest to test. To be fair, that’s why PISA has a raft of initiatives around other measures; PIACC (adult skills tested via computers in 26 countries results 2013 on problem solving, cognitive abilities etc.), AHELO (assessing HE outcomes, not just research), OECD (review of evaluation and assessment frameworks for improving school outcomes (2009-2012), TALIS (International survey of a randomly selected 200 schools on teaching & learning).

Lesson learnt 8: Assessment v attainment – improvement, not league tables

Unfortunately, PISA has become an object of fear in many countries, promoting, in general, an atmosphere of failure, and skewed towards the developed world. The press and politicians focus on league position, rather than improvements, but it does point towards some basic policy shaping recommendations around equitable education, quality and collaboration.

9. Horizontal v Vertical

We had a presentation by Jeffrey Sachs that presented education as a series of horizontal layers of sedimentary rock – primary, secondary, further, higher. The problem with this structure is that education for the learner is vertical. The poor learner has to punch their way through these layers of impermeable rock to get anywhere, and most simply give up tunnelling, with only a few surviving.

Few talk about the core rationale for education. Sure it leads to better economic and health outcomes, especially the education of women. But some education (fundamentalist Christian, Judaic and Islamic) also leads to strife. I’d prefer to see education defined in terms of social good through individual empowerment. I have always held that education is about personal autonomy, autonomy in terms of abilities which help you make a living, contribute to society and have en enriched life. But education is so often about attendance not attainment, assessment not attainment. It’s about institutions, not the person. It’s about teachers not learners.

Lesson learnt 9: Horizontal v Vertical – don’t pander to horizontal interests

We could really address a core issue here. What is education for? The current models can soak up cash (often doubling budgets) with very thin improvements in outcomes. Equitable systems seem to work best, but we want to encourage competition and private sector driven hierarchical systems. Collaboration and sharing work, but our institutions share nothing.

10. 20th C v 21st C

There was one depressing aspect of the summit, the oft repeated refrain that students are badly in need of something called 21st century skills. A series of presenters ‘lectured’ us on how a new set of skills have emerged around collaboration, social skills, and problem solving! It was deeply ironic, if not tragic. The very idea that ‘teachers’ and ‘lecturers’ have the skills to teach the very things that the average 12 year old has in abundance, was laughable. What are my children going to learn from baby boomer models of collaboration and social interaction – nothing.

We get ‘talked at’ in schools, ‘lectured’ to in HE, suffer the stupid ‘breakout group’ method in training and spend far too much of our lives in useless, often unnecessary ‘meeting’s’. This was the baby boomers approach to collaboration and sharing. Compare this to the immediacy of mobile, txting, messaging, posting, commenting, tweeting, social networking, blogging, team-based gaming, skyping, filesharing and crowdsourcing. We have more to learn from them, than them from us.

The very phrase ‘21st C skills’ is a symptom of our prejudiced thinking, as if there was a sudden shift in cognitive need around the decimal system, and that we 20th century adults had it sussed, if only these 21st century kids would listen to our advice. We invented the treadmill that is the current system and need to sit back and learn from them on sharing and collaboration. The people who really are shaping learning through pedagogic shift are not educational theorists but the smart young people who invented Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and OER models.

And to those who say that we educators need to be in control of this attention sapping technology, I’d say it’s none of your business. What learners do with their spare time and technology is their business. ‘Teachers’ and ‘lecturers’ don’t own the minds of learners, their role is one of nurture not control. Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone!

Lesson learnt 10: 20thC v21st C – we have more to learn from them than them from us

Let’s be clear, we have little or nothing to teach them on this front. Neither can we predict the skills they’ll need. Since 2000 we’ve had an explosion of wireless broadband and mobile technology, fuelling a renaissance in communication, collaboration and sharing. The average teenager has already amassed years of daily, if not hourly communication skills, shared thoughts, photographs and videos, collaborative game playing, constant dialogue, filesharing and they write something every day, if not every hour. They understand collaboration and sharing at a far deeper level than their teachers and parents.

Last word…

Sorry, if this was rather long, but the summit did make me think, reflect and in that sense was a great success……thanks to all the people I met there: Graham Brown-Martin, Derek Robertson, Stephen Heppell, Charlie Leadbetter, Jay Cross, Dan Sutch, Marc Prensky, Andy Smart, Lee Heeyoung, Rob Crawford, Sharath Jeevan, Suhair M Ayyash, Samer Bagaeen,Mrko Mahkonen, Inacio Rodriguez, Farid Ullah Khan, Keith Kruger, Dilvo Ristoff and many, many more....

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Clickers: mobile technology that will work in classes

Eric Mazur teaches physics at Harvard, but he is also famous for having revolutionised the teaching of physics through peer learning. I should add that he is one of the few academics who really has done thorough and exciting empirical research into what works and doesn’t work in HE teaching, especially lectures. His lectures are not really lectures but Socratic exercises, in that they are question-led, diagnostic with episodic discussions and peer resolution. What's interesting is that his primary diagnostic tool is the ‘clicker’.

I have often written about the futility of technology in the classroom, and have long believed that technology is better suited to the individual outside, than inside, the classroom. However, there’s one piece of simple technology that I rather like – the clicker. We are now living in the mobile age and having small, powerful, portable and personal devices for communications is the absolute technological norm for students. The problem of mobiles in education has been their negative use in classrooms, where students text, record unsuitable videos and so on. But here’s a use that is actually useful, backed up by Mazur’s brilliant research. If you want to explore this further watch this video, 'Data is not the plural of anecdote' courtesy of Seb Schmoller – it’s long but it's worth it.

Seven uses and advantages

  1. Start-up. Before starting it can be used to grab attention, set up a problem to be solved, as a reinforcing assessment on previous work done or as a diagnostic device on the range of abilities within the class before you start.
  2. Amplifies attention. Attention is a necessary condition for learning and clicker questions demand a response making students stay on task. They pay more attention because they expect questions to be asked, and when asked, they get that lift they need after ten to fifteen minutes of exposition.
  3. Anonymity. Many students value the anonymity of the responses. They can check out their own knowledge relative to others without embarrassment. It’s a form of self-formative feedback.
  4. Diagnostic feedback. Teachers/lecturers can use them diagnostically to assess the overall state of knowledge of the class. This, as Dylan William states, needs the use of clever 'hinge’ or diagnostic questions, that really do test understanding, as opposed to recall. This is precisely what Mazur does at Harvard with stunning results in attainment.
  5. Sparks discussion. Results can be used for further remedial elucidation or to spark small group peer instruction. Again, this is how they are used in Mazur’s peer-instruction sessions.
  6. Summative assessment. Quick reinforcing, summative assessments can be held at the end of the session.
  7. Evaluation of session. It would take a brave teacher/lecturer to do this, but why not ask students to evaluate the session at the end. Could lead to improvements next time.

Mobile clickers

Ipads and Blackberries already have apps that convert them into clickers. The iPad, in particular, is starting to look interesting, with a whole rack of US colleges using them for textbooks, comms, recorded lectures and, interestingly, as clickers. There’s a few free and pro clicker apps out there.

iResponse available in iTunes

eClicker watch this on Youtube or but on iTunes

SRNclient available on iTunes

If you’re looking for something that works with more devices try Responseware, a multiple device software that works with iPhones, Blackberries, Windows Mobile devices and laptops.

Proprietary clickers have been around for years, and although more expensive, they work. Northwestern University use proprietary clickers for audience responses and also class attendance. I wouldn't not recommend these, but see the mobile phone as the ultimate solution.


Expect this virtual clicker software to be free from the cloud soon and to work with a full range of mobile devices. It’s one of the few mobile applications in learning that would have a huge and immediate impact in the classroom or lecture hall.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Does CIPD CEO deserve £87K bonus? Personnel Today survey NO 94%, YES 6%!

Personnel Today picked up on my Jackie Orme story and laid out the case with a link to my blog along with an official response from the CIPD.

"There is an element of Jackie's package which is performance-related, and which is linked to a scorecard of clear objectives. The main point is that against that scorecard, the Institute has had a successful year….. That level of detail is between the remuneration committee and Jackie Orme.”

Let me translate: ‘It’s none of your business. We decide and that’s that!’

Listen, we all understand that the Remuneration Committee technically decides on these things, but it is not enough to simply state you’ve had a successful year with not a single word of support, especially as the stated facts suggest the opposite.

You can see from the annual report that the CIPD have had an annus horrbilis:

Jackie Orme’s bonus up by 49% to £87,000, BUT:

  1. Commercial income down by 23%
  2. Research down by 57% and ridiculed (report pulled and CEO apology)
  3. Magazine imploded (down 83%)
  4. Revenues from the branches down by 45.6%,
  5. Investment returns bombed (down 74.7%)
  6. And don’t forget that there was also a dramatic 50% increase in the number of staff on £60k plus from 14 in 2009 to 21 in 2010.

Devastating survey

The comments on the Personnel Today website were mostly negative, so they launched a survey. These are the results so far:

Do you think the CIPD’s performance in 2009-10 justifies CEO Jackie Orme’s bonus?
So far YES 6%, NO 94%

The poll ends on December 7th, so get your vote in now.

An overwhelming rebuke I’d say.

Credibility at stake

But there’s a wider issue at stake here, which is the very credibility of the CIPD. By failing to explain the £400k salary, and in particular the huge increase in her bonus to £87,000, the CIPD are in no position to offer advice and guidance on pay to others.

Their paper on bonuses on the public sector (recommending them strongly) was seen by many as a rather odd and idiosyncratic message in these times of austerity, especially as it was published close to the disastrous ‘Quango’ paper, attacking organisations that weren’t quangos, but charities, just like the CIPD. The paper had to be pulled and an apology issued by Jackie Orme, when the CEOs of those charities rounded on the CIPD for their amateurism.

If the CIPD was a large organisation with a large number of employees, I’d have some sympathy with a total package of £400k, but it is a charity and technically a SME, as it has less than 250 employees. Jackie Orme, in accepted this package from a weak remuneration committee of just three board members.

New President’s murky past

Let me add another warning. Gill Rider, the incoming President, was the Head of HR across Whitehall. To put it another way, Head of Civil Service Capability Group (widely seen as inefficient and incapable) and Head of Profession for Civil Service HR, widely criticised as being responsible for the excessive salaries and bonuses for top Civil Servants. You may not know much about Gill Rider, but she was subject to a severe mauling from the press after the government awarded a £400 million contract to De La Rue Printers for passports. Turns out she’s a Director of de La Rue, and although resigned briefly, returned as a Director the very day the contract was awarded. She was also accused of nepotism by appointing colleagues of hers to top Government posts. The whole murky story is here. The CIPD is turning into a second-rate dictatorship lurching from one incompetent leader to another.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Skype learning – 7 great benefits

You can always spot a fabulous technology when it can be used as a verb, like email, text, tweet. I’ll ‘Skype’ you, is one of those wonderful verbs. Over the last two years I’ve been doing voluntary Maths and Science tuition for kids that find these subjects difficult. It’s been a mix of face-to-face and Skype. So what follows is a short comparison between these two techniques.


Skype is one of the wonders of the web, mainly because it’s free. Who would have thought that videoconferencing would cost nothing and that any old Joe from any old computer, and many phones, could do it for free? In these frugal times that’s a gift from the heavens.

Death of distance

Skype is a classic ‘death of distance’ technology. It quite simply frees us from the tyranny of location and cost. Both teacher and student can be literally anywhere. There’s nothing worse for a young person than having to trek round to a tutor’s house in the dark to do some ‘learning’. Booting up Skype is so much quicker and easier.

Increased focus

Skype forces both teacher and student to focus. This may be because you feel that you’re using up valuable online resource, even though it’s free. In any case, there is real sustained attention, which I think is better than a one-to-one face-to-face session. You are far less likely to drift off-task, as either teacher or learner. That means more learning in less time.

True dialogue

The fact that you’re not sitting next to them, and leaning into them, gives them time to breath, think, reflect and respond in their own time. It’s far more measured, with properly paced, dialogue, as the teacher is less likely to talk over the student and more likely to wait until they give a thoughtful response. Dylan William has shown that teachers tend to ask questions then jump in too early when the student fails to respond. I’ve found his 3 second rule (wait 3 secs before saying anything) much easier when online. Both sides take greater care to participate in a structured and constructive dialogue. Of course, you can be even more structured using the message service, which forces you to wait until the other person has responded with a written (and therefore considered) answer.

Prevents peer problems

But it’s the subtler issue of peer distance that really surprised me. Let’s face it, adults and teachers are not the peers of teenagers. We’re the opposite of peers, in the sense that whatever’s cool for us is the opposite of cool for them. I’ve found that being online, brings with it a healthy form of psychological distance that prevents peer problems. It’s more of an adult to adult conversation in the sense that the technology is a leveller. It puts you both on the same psychological plane.

Shared learning resources

When it comes to doing things, like setting a problem, responding with an answer, illustrating a point with a diagram or downloading a past paper or online resource such as BBC Bitesize, you can do so while keeping the Skype channel open. No need to have the video on, just have the new window full screen and the audio dialogue can continue. This is great as you both have your full attention on the content, not the psychological noise you get in face-to-face sessions.


You can record your Skype sessions for free, integrate with outlook, create alerts, use whiteboards, tutoring tools (just click on ‘Conversation’ then ‘Extras)’. There’s literally dozens of tools that allow do anything from customise to the sharing of files and resources.


Some of these virtues are simple and clear; it’s free and frees you from the tyranny of location. Others advantages are more psychological; increased attention, better dialogue and levelling out of peer effects. Lastly, there’s the practical advantages around shared online resources. Bottom line: Skype’s a vastly underused tool that’s made for learning.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NLP: scientific paper suggests it’s a “pseudoscience” that should be “mothballed”

NLP is one of those topics that has been abandoned by academia and psychology but still soldiers on in the training world. To be fair, the NLPers have retreated to a position of 'science and evidence is irrelevant'. However, as Christopher Hitchins often says, "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." I was pleased, therefore, to receive a pre-publication paper from Tomasz Witkowski that takes all of the current academic work on NLP, including that which purports to support its theory, and puts it to the test. The paper’s title is, 'Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration?'

Why is NLP completely absent from psychology textbooks?

Despite its aggressive marketing and application in training, Witkowski asks; ‘Why is NLP completely absent from psychology textbooks?’ Rather conveniently, Bandler didn't think that empirical testing was necessary and is openly contemptuous of such an approach. However, it is important to look at the theory from a perspective that is free from the biases of its practitioners (as they believe the theory and make money from the practice) and the patients (who may be subject to manipulation and false belief).

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Research Data Base

Witkowski starts on NLPs home territory with the Neuro-Linguistic Programming Research Data Base found on the web pages of NLP Community. It is the largest of such databases and includes hundreds of empirical studies from 1974-2009, and is often used by NLP proponents to defend the empirical nature of their theory and practice. First, he applied a credibility filter to the database (the respected Master Journal List of the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia) to identify the reliable journals. This took the 315 down to 63.

A qualitative analysis of these 63 articles showed; 33 relevant empirical studies, 14 that were of little or scientific significance and 16 that appear to have been included in the database by accident, as they weren’t relevant. Of the 33 relevant papers; 18 were non-supportive of the NLP tenets and the tenets-derived hypotheses (54.5%), 9 supported NLP tenets and the tenets-derived hypotheses (27.3%), and 6 had uncertain outcomes (18.2%).

He then applied a national test, based on relevance and impact, to find that the papers NOT supporting NLP had more status in the academic and professional world. He concludes that, "The numbers indicate unequivocally that the NLP concept has not been developed on solid empirical foundations". His point is that the numbers alone don't tell the whole story, what matters is the weight of the evidence. A problem uncovered in the supporting papers was the common absence of a control group, and trials that could not be seen as scientifically valid. The non-supportive papers, that showed no evidence for the eye movement hypothesis (Thomason, Arbuckle & Cady, 1980; Farmer, Rooney & Cunningham, 1985; Poffel & Cross, 1985; Burke et al., 2003) and preferred modalities (Gumm, Walker and Day (1982), and also Coe and Scharcoff (1985)), were much more rigorous. Elich, Thompson and Miller (1985) tested claims that eye movement direction and spoken predicates are indicative of sensory modality of imagery and showed no evidence for the NLP-derived hypotheses. Graunke and Roberts (1985) tested the impact of imagery tasks on sensory predicate usage, again showing no evidence for NLP theory. By this point the case was clear, the case for the defence was baseless.

Sharpley, Einsprach & Forman and Heap

Witkowski builds on the metastudies of Sharpley, Einspruch & Forman and Heap published in the 80s, to show that NLP claims are still unproven. Interestingly 11 of the original Sharpley studies (1984) are not in the NLP database. Not surprising, as Sharpley in his first review dismissed claims of PRS, eye movements, self-reporting, predicate matching and the ability of NLP to change clients. In his second review, building on the results of Einspruch & Forman (1985), Sharpley (1987) he went even further, dismissing the claims made for its therapeutic benefits, namely anxiety, pacing and metaphor. Finally, NLP is dismissed as a method for improving performance by the US Army (Swets & Bjork, 1990). “The conclusion was that little if any evidence exists either to support NLP’s assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence.” Heap (1988) drew similar conclusions, after examining 63 empirical studies. PRs, eye movements, predicate matching and their role in counseling, were dismissed as baseless. This is exactly what Witowski confirms, when considering subsequent research.

Bifurcation from academia

Witkowski’s discussion is particularly relevant. He makes the point that much of the research in the 80s was designed to test NLP on the back of its popularity. The file drawer effect would suggest that many non-supporting studies were quietly dropped. What is clear is that there was a stark bifurcation between theory and practice. The NLP community went on to aggressively market its wares, while serious academia ignored the whole field as irrelevant and unworthy of research. This is similar to the difference between astrology and astronomy. No one is interested in testing astrology, as it is so patently weak in its hypotheses and predictive ability.

Conclusion: pseudoscience that should be mothballed

What is so powerful about this paper is the fact that he climbs into NLPs back yard to expose their so-called supporting evidence, and found it wanting. A damning statement is made about the status of the evidence invoked by NLP theorists and practitioners, “The base (NLP database) is commonly invoked by NLP followers and indicated as evidence for the existence of solid empirical grounds of their preferred concept. It is most likely that most of them have never looked through the base. Otherwise they might have come to the conclusion that it provides evidence to the contrary – for the lack of any empirical underpinnings” This is pretty damning. The paper asks a key question: “Is using and selling something non-existent and ineffective ethical?” Witkowski’s answer is clear: that is “pseudoscience” and should be “mothballed”.

Fees: blame 'clubby' Universities

What role have the Universities themselves played in the recent brouhaha over fees? Peter Scott, himself a Vice Chancellor blames the university 'clubs' for the mess. Thinly disguised vice-chancellor clubs such as the Russell Group (see Wendy Piatt left), 1994 Group, Alliance Group and Million+ Group have turned from being discussion groups to campaigning groups. As Universities are represented by Mickey-Mouse unions, these so-called clubs have stepped into the breach and started firing off some very odd salvos.

Self-serving hierarchy

The Russell Group’s hideous harridan Wendy Piatt has been campaigning hard for higher, uncapped student fees, way beyond any fiscal or social sense. Rather than club together to reform themselves, they decided to group themselves into a self-serving hierarchy. Rather than question their profligate capital spending, low occupancy rates, agricultural calendar, dull lectures and failure to tap into alumni donations, they simply became groups with begging bowls. This lobbying fell on deaf ears, as the politicians simply saw them as a divided mob, vying with each other for funds, rather than building the future.

With the notable exception of Martin Bean of the OU, who has fought hard for an alternative model in HE; more support for part-time students, private capital, new teaching methods etc. and Peter Scott of Kingston, Vice-Chancellors have fallen into line, queuing up for their MBEs, CBEs and knighthoods (by not rocking the boat).

Myth of managerialism

Of course, it’s wrong to blame Vice Chancellors alone, as Universities are largely run by Councils and Senates, which are largely run by academics. Few layman, and in fact few academics, really know how and who runs Universities, as most are not interested. Despite common claims of managerialism (litmus test for woolly thought), few private sector types exist in these structures and fewer still have any real power and influence. It’s academics and ex-academics who fuel the fire. If students want to occupy buildings they could do worse than the HQ of the Russell Group; 1 Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5BW.

Friday, November 19, 2010

CIPD: CEO Jackie Orme on £400k salary, £85k bonus for failure

Jackie Orme is fast becoming the Fred Goodwin of personnel and development. Just released accounts see her pocket a 400k salary. Her £85,000 bonus, is up by 49% from £57,000 last year. Not bad for an organisation whose commercial revenue has plummeted (down 23%), research down and ridiculed (down 57% & report pulled), magazine imploded (down 83%), investment returns bombed (down 74.7%) and membership angry and alienated about a command and control culture that leaves them with less services and starved of cash. A curious position for the supposed leader of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, the main professional body for HR and training!

Poor leadership

Forever twittering on about ‘leadership’, the CIPD is a rock-solid case study in poor leadership. All Orme has achieved is fiscal failure, while awarding herself a £400,000 salary and obscene bonus. This is a manager whose rewards are truly in inverse proportion to achievement and performance. On top of this she’s awarded herself a nice little 6k on top of her base salary, and don’t forget the 13k of benefits in kind – whatever that means. Then there’s the pension. She’s also creating a culture of greed through a dramatic 50% increase in the number of staff on £60k plus from 14 in 2009 to 21 in 2010. There’s no end to this gravy train. What are the remuneration committee playing at?

Collapsing commercial revenues

From her written text in the Annual Report you'd think the CIPD had had a bumper year. Despite its aggressive push into commercial activities, using an acquisition and its brand to squash commercial competition, its revenues are down by 20%. This is all the more surprising as they bought a consultancy i.e. bought income this year. Take away this acquired income and you have a drop in commercial revenues of 23.7%. Revenues from the branches are down by 45.6%, revenue from investments down by 74.7%. Of course, this all means that there’s been a lot less spent on membership services, education, research and branches. So much for measurable KPIs!

Bridge Communications: a bridge too far

Then there’s the odd acquisition of a consultancy, something that has been widely criticised by members. Surely the CIPD, as a charity, is in the business of supporting its members, not competing against them for business. The sum paid (£3.8 million plus a £900,000 earnout) seems massively overpriced. In any case, it’s not right to buy an advantage in the market which you’re supposed to serve. If I had a HR consultancy, I’d be none too pleased that my subscriptions have gone into buying my competitor.

People Management: managed to collapse

The CIPDs house magazine (a dull, bi-weekly recruitment rag) has gone into almost terminal decline under her watch, with an 83% decline in revenues - yes 83%. Feedback suggested that almost everything was wrong with the magazine; low on features, lack of innovation etc. It's going to be relaunched, apparently but you can't relaunch a shipwreck.

Research: a calamitous year

Much is also made, by Jackie Orme, of the CIPDs research activities. What she didn't mention was the huge PR disaster, when they published a research report attacking the spend on Quangos in Education and Skills (seen as a thinly veiled attack on rivals). Tom Richards, the young researcher responsible for the report had nowhere near the depth and experience to do this type of report, so it was sketchy and wildly inaccurate, so factually wrong that several CEOs wrote public letters decrying the document, eliciting a groveling apology from the CIPD and it was pulled from their website. Then there’s the opinion pieces, that are overtly political, promoting, for example, a bonus culture in the public sector (wonder why?). Oh, and by the way, revenues in this area plummeted by 57%. Success - I think not.

Conclusion – fiscal failure

Under Jackie Orme, the CIPD has managed something quite unique; collapsing commercial revenues, an expensive acquisition, reduced services to members, disastrous magazine performance and poor quality research. Serious questions were asked about her qualifications and ability when she was appointed. Those questions have now been answered. The AGM is at 13:15 on Tuesday 7 December 2010 at the Royal College of Physicianson, open to all members. Go along and ask a few scary questions.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

E-learning Age Awards - dressed to skill!

First, a big congratulations to Mark Harrison. I worked with Mark for years at Epic and can confirm the judges' views that he's positive, personable and gets things done.
Congratulations also to the E-learning Age guys for a full house and a fun night out. The Marriot on Grovenor Square was packed to the guddles with well scrubbed e-learning types. Necklines wer lower and heels higher. Our hostess for the evening was dressed in a 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' affair (I mean this as a compliment) in a low cut, lime green, silky piece that matched perfectly the E-learning Age brand pantone. What planning! The guys were tuxed up; although it was more Moss Bros than Saville row. The women had pushed the fashion boat out; some in racy speedboats, others in sleek, expensive yachts and just a few tugboats. Prize for best dressed man goes to Donald Taylor, the James Bond of e-learning (checkout his twitterpic). Good to see the man who runs Learning Technologies 'Dressed to Skill'. You've also got to love Clive Shepherd, this man can do no wrong and was his usual urbane self, urging us all to enjoy our night out and put aside any scepticism around awards. Clive has reached that enlightened state of Buddhist baldness. He will, forever, look the same age.
Brighton Rocks
Brighton was easily the top source of award winners, with Epic, Kineo, Brightwave and Edvantage all winning awards. Epic hit the jackpot with a programme for BA, Kineo for Marks & Spencer (well done Stephen Walsh) and of course Mark Harrison, Brightwave for PWC (well done Virginia Bader) and Edvantage got a well deserved Silver for Production Company of the Year (well done to the irrepressible Andrea).
MP for a day
Amused to hear that Lightbox had won the game/simulation award for Parliament's Education Department, called 'MP for a day'. The game, apparently, is packed full of cheats, where you vote for personal advancement, collect lobbyists, rack up your expenses score, while keeping the rioting populace at bay.
Open U & Open Learn
The Open University won the Social media Award for Open Learn. I'm not wholly convinced that this is Social Media, as it's a bunch of largely text documents online; actually a bit of a disappointment given the millions spent on it. However, not to quibble, I love the OU.
Death Award
Not good to see BAT win the Corporate Distance Learning Award. Since when did learning how to kill people through cancinogenic products become a worthy, award-winning pursuit. I wonder if the shameless mob who went up to collect the award sneaked out for a sly ciggie afterwards?
Food was superb but one disappointment was the distinct lack of irreverence and rowdiness. Gone are the days when champagne was drunk from client's shoes, buns thrown when drunken comperes told tasteless jokes and comedians who gave awards, clueless about the very idea of e-learning (all true). It was all very polite, too polite.

Meeting the needs of compliance for an external regulator or an internal workforce

Gold Winner: PricewaterhouseCoopers and Brightwave

Silver Winner: Atlas Interactive

Bronze Winner: SAI Global/AstraZeneca

Best use of mobile learning

Winner: Learnosity

Best use of rapid e-learning content

Gold winner: Bupa Health and Wellbeing UK and Brightwave

Silver Winner: Everything Everywhere

Bronze Winner: ispeakuspeak

Best use of synchronous e-learning

Winner: Hibernia College

Best use of social media for learning

Gold Winner: OpenLearn, The Open University

Silver Winner: GradeGuru, by McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Best learning game, simulation or virtual environment

Gold Winner: Lightbox Education and Parliament’s Education Service

Silver Winner: St George's University of London

Bronze Winner: Market Class

Most innovative new product or tool in e-learning

Gold Winner: MyWorkSearch

Silver Winner: AiSolve in partnership with Train4trade Skills

Bronze Winner:TAG Developments

Best e-learning project securing widespread adoption

Gold Winner: SEI – The Romanian IT-based Education System

Silver Winner: GlobalEnglish Corporation and ArcelorMittal

Bronze Winner: e-Learning for Healthcare: e-Learning Anaesthesia

Best online or distance learning programme – Not for profit

Winner: IMC (UK) Learning and the Fire Service College

Best online or distance learning programme – Corporate learning

Winner: Infinity Learning and British American Tobacco

Best online or distance learning programme – Education

Gold Winner: University of Edinburgh and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Silver Winner: EF Englishtown

Bronze Winner: Hibernia College

Excellence in the production of learning content – Not for profit sector

Winner: One Plus One and Nelson Croom

Excellence in the production of learning content – Public sector

Gold Winner: Gloucester Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and e2train

Silver Winner: e-Learning for Healthcare: e-GP

Bronze Winner: Screenmedia: The Big Plus – Work Skills Academy

Excellence in the production of learning content – Private sector

Gold winner: Epic and British Airways

Gold Winner: Marks and Spencer and Kineo

Silver Winner: Autonomy e-learning and Volkswagen Group

E-learning internal project team of the year – Public sector

Winner: Capita National Strategies

E-learning internal project team of the year – Private sector

Winner: Home Retail Group

E-learning industry award for outstanding achievement – Corporate

Winner: Fusion Universal

E-learning industry award for outstanding achievement – Individual

Winner: Mark Harrison – Kineo

E-learning development company of the year

Gold Winner: Nelson Croom

Silver Winner: Edvantage Group