Important vs Urgent Skills

Andrew_Douch_croppedAndrew Douch is an independent education technology expert with 22 years’ classroom experience. He has won numerous awards for his work with emerging technologies in education, including the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher of the Year. His mantra is ‘You don’t need to be very good with technology to do very good things with technology’.

This is the first generation of STEM teachers who must choose between teaching important skills and teaching urgent skills.  In previous generations, there was no difference. The important skills were the urgent skills. Now there is a fork in the road, which presents a threshold challenge to STEM teachers in 2017.

“Importance” is about how much something matters. “Urgency” is about how soon it matters. In previous generations, it was understood that the more knowledge students had when leaving school, the better their career prospects. The urgency of exam preparation incentivised students to learn the important skills that would later underpin their career success. But that is no longer true.

There is a growing, collective understanding among STEM teachers that the skills which prepared yesterday’s students to thrive in a knowledge economy are inadequate preparation for today’s students. As information continues to be commoditised and processes automated, retaining knowledge is less important than it once was. It is still helpful for a student to know the first 20 elements of the periodic table, but failing to know them is a much smaller handicap than it was 20 years ago. After all, you can ask Siri what the atomic mass of copper is, should you ever need that information.

I’m not saying (as some do) that knowledge has no value, nor that looking something up (no matter how efficiently) is as good as remembering it. If students are ignorant on a topic, they have no filter through which to sift new information. In a “post-truth” world, critical thinking is more valuable than ever and critical thinking is problematic for someone who lacks the context that knowledge affords. Nevertheless, YouTube is a pretty effective knowledge prosthesis.

Creativity, problem-solving, resourcefulness, computational thinking… these are skills that have always been valuable but are now at a premium! Teachers get this. Every time I mention it in a presentation I notice teachers nodding. But there seems to be a disconnect between that understanding and the way many teachers plan their classes. Many of us still spend a large portion of our class time teaching knowledge. Why? Because in November students will sit an exam to answer questions that in any other context would be googleable! If we have failed to prepare them for that we will have let them down. We’ll not have done any favours for our own reputation, either! Personally, I don’t think exams effectively measure student learning in any meaningful way in 2017. But as a science teacher I have no influence over the State’s assessment processes (“God grant me the serenity…”). For as long as exams are the gate through which students must enter to pursue a STEM career, we need to hold that gate open for them.

Therein lies the dilemma we face in 2017. Do we spend our valuable class time on the most important or the most urgent things? Do we equip our students with the skills that will matter to them most, or those that will matter to them first? Do we prepare them to thrive in the economy of the future, or to thrive in the exams of November?

I don’t think we can neglect either! But clearly there is insufficient time to do both.

Since we are unlikely to be given more time, we need to make more efficient use of the time we have.

A common criticism of the flipped classroom model is that it is still a fundamentally didactic, teacher-centred approach. I don’t disagree with that – although if done well, I do think that it is much more student-centred than it might seem. Nevertheless, it is not my aim in this article to discuss different approaches to the flipped classroom model, how to do it well, nor to explain how it can be student-focussed. The point I want to make in this article, rather, is that it is much more efficient than traditional approaches. By taking didactic learning out of the classroom, class time is reclaimed for more “important” learning tasks, those which prepare students for the economy of their future. At the same time, it allows students to cover the “urgent” content they need for exams much more efficiently. They can, for example, listen to a lesson at double speed, while multi-tasking it with washing the dishes (or some other mindless chore), thereby saving precious at-desk study hours for other tasks. It also makes that kind of learning demonstrably more effective.

In many ways, I think the term “flipped learning” does a disservice to the concept of flipped learning by implying that it is the wrong-way-round. On the contrary, I think it should be the new normal – at least until we do away with high-stakes standardised testing.

Nobody races down to the bank during lunchtime any more, to withdraw cash during bank hours. Instead, we enjoy lunch with our colleagues in the staffroom. Then we multi-task cash-withdrawal with our grocery shopping that evening when the bank is closed. We don’t call it “flipped banking” – but that is what we are doing! We are using technology to time-shift a necessary, “urgent” errand to make more efficient use of our time, while also reclaiming our lunch time to rest and cultivate rapport with colleagues – both of which, are important but not urgent.

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Andrew Douch.

How sustainable are your e-learning courses?

Jeanette Swain, eWorks ConsultantJeanette has worked in education and training for over 20 years as an environmental educator, e-learning leader and in quality and compliance. She is also a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Further to Jeanette’s Need an e-learning check-up? blog post, it is now time to take a closer look at the sustainability of your courses.

How sustainable are your courses?

In this blog post, I would like to expand on point two in my eLearning check-upHow sustainable are your courses? The questions I suggested you ask of your organisation were:

  1. Are your eLearning stars individuals with passion?
  2. What would happen if they move on?
  3. Are you utilising the skills of these staff in mentoring and coaching others?
  4. What are your continuity and professional development strategies?

What is sustainability?

From a business perspective, sustainability refers to the endurance of systems and processes. In terms of eLearning courses in your organisation, sustainability is about the systems and processes that support your eLearning effort. There are several organisational approaches to providing eLearning:

  • In some cases, eLearning is tied tightly to individual effort and can fly below the radar.
  • In other cases, organisations (especially those where education is not core business) have a team approach.
  • Other organisations provide course content online is part of the job role of all teaching and training staff. In this case they tend to have a digital learning strategy and a ‘whole of organisation’ approach. This model is growing rapidly, as more organisations become aware of the power of online delivery, and expect their staff to have the skills to contribute to it.

1. eLearning individuals

Are your eLearning stars individuals with passion or do you have defined roles within your organisation? If the majority of course design, development and online teaching falls on individuals without a formal eLearning role, then I would suggest that this ad hoc approach is not sustainable!  The obvious risk is the individual leaving the organisation without a transition plan.  Less obvious risks include;

  • course quality and consistency impacting on the User Experience
  • organisation compliance processes
  • copyright laws and regulations
  • ensuring that the individual is maintaining and meeting the business rules of the organisation.duplication of content, difficulty in sharing.

2. eLearning teams or departments

If you have an organisational team or department responsible for eLearning are they multidisciplinary? If you are working in the accredited education space do you have a broad set of skills on your team? At a minimum you should ensure that you have skills in the following areas;

  • learning design
  • content creation
  • assessment
  • copyright
  • organisational compliance requirements, and

There are sustainability issues with this approach also, however. If training staff are provided with a ’ready-made program’, do you have their buy-in, or could time and money be spent developing eLearning programs that are not utilised effectively? Other issues may include eLearning teams lacking skills in Training and Assessment or taking liberty with learning content due to lack of support from subject matter experts.

3. Whole of organisation approach

The most sustainable approach to eLearning is a whole of organisation approach. This would take the form of a digital learning strategy. Developing a digital learning strategy provides the opportunity to set the vision, objectives and strategic priorities for eLearning in your organisation. It is an opportunity to redefine the expectations of your learners and your trainers and to ensure that the organisation is focused to defined goals. A digital learning strategy should encompass:

People

  • Your staff needs, including how you train, support and encourage their ongoing development.
  • Your learners’ needs and expectations of eLearning.

Systems

  • Ensuring your IT systems are robust and able to support growth.
  • Ensuring your policies and procedures support your strategy.
  • Integration of key business systems.

Profitability

  • Reducing the costs of eLearning through preventing duplication of tasks. That is, requiring tasks to be completed online and on paper.
  • Streamlined student induction and support.
  • Bulk purchasing of digital content and IT hardware.
  • Searchable content available organisation wide.
  • Focused professional development of staff.

Is it time to develop your digital learning strategy?

Whatever your approach to eLearning sustainability, now is a good time to consider what you are doing well and areas that need improvement. If you are thinking of developing a digital learning strategy or undertaking an eLearning check-up Jeanette can give you a hand.

Digital badges: The future of tracking staff development

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller is a member of eWorks’ team of accredited consultants, and a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Allison is passionate about providing learners with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. And this means all learners – whether they are straight out of school or adult employees. Today Allison considers the nature of workplace learning and how to provide evidence of this learning.

How do people learn in the workplace?

Highly successful companies know that being a learning organisation is a key factor in helping them face the daily pressures of remaining competitive in an ever changing business world. Using strategies such as developing a shared organisational vision greatly increases the likelihood of their staff working together to achieve a common goal, and thereby contributing to their overall success.

Research (O’Keeffe, 2002) shows, however, that a high percentage of learning in the workplace is incidental through every day problem solving and experimentation, and is less reliant on formal training. Team or shared learning through regular discussions, open communication and shared findings provides even better learning outcomes than traditional education and training.

The 70:20:10 framework of learning

More recently, this learning is talked about as being part of the 70:20:10 framework of learning, and it is fast becoming the preferred way to improve workplace performance (Jennings, 2016).  That is:

  • 70% of workplace learning and development happens through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice.
  • 20% of workplace learning and development happens when working with others and from observing what others do or have learned.
  • 10% of workplace learning and development happens through structured courses and programs.

While this is a fantastic model and a number of learning and development teams are using it, the problem still lies in capturing and tracking the evidence of people’s learning, whether that be formal, informal or non-formal learning.  This coupled with the fact that formal education and training can quite quickly go out of date. So how can the age-old issue of easily managing and monitoring staff training and development be solved?

Enter the digital badge

A digital badge is an online image which holds important information about a person’s abilities and experiences which can be shared online. Beyond its Boy Scout Badge image, the digital badge’s killer app is its embedded metadata. This metadata holds all of the information about a person’s achievements within the badge itself. It also verifies the issuer of the badge, and if relevant, identifies when the badge ‘expires’ or if ongoing professional development is required, such as for a White Card or CPD.

On issue, the digital badges can be displayed by the receiver in a number of ways, through a digital backpack, in an eportfolio or on a website. This form of digital credentialing has many advantages over traditional paper parchments and academic statements in that they are linked back to the ‘source of truth’ of the issuing organisation, and are very hard to ‘lose’.

digital badgesCredits: Modern Communication by CURSOCH

How can digital badges help to track achievements?

Digital badges are perfect in the workplace to help manage people’s training requirements. Imagine each line manager having a visual dashboard of digital badges which showcases the training and achievements of each staff member, and most importantly, what they haven’t achieved.

As these digital badges evolve, imagine they could change colour to highlight when training was due to be updated or is out of date. These badges also enable staff to display their own training and achievements as part of their digital portfolio / resume.

So who’s using them?

Deakin Digital, subsidiary of Deakin University, are using this form of credentialing to allow people to digitally document the skills they have gained in work and life (Presant, 2016). Once learners have completed a full catalogue of digital credentials they can use their digital badges to gain a unit of study as a pathway to a graduate degree (NMC, 2016).

Allyn Radford, CEO of Deakin Digital, describes this method as moving an organisation’s learning capabilities from being a black box, where you can’t see what’s inside, to that of a glass box, where leaders can see everything that their staff can do (and need to do).

The Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) have implemented digital badges to recognise the contribution and achievements of learning and development professionals. Badges are issued to AITD members, to participants of AITD’s events and activities; to people who contribute to the running of AITD, and to the finalists of their Awards program.

Even Samsung has jumped on the bandwagon by issuing digital badges to reward staff for completing product based training.

Is it hard to get started using digital badges?

It’s REALLY easy to get started with digital badges if you are using a learning management system (LMS) such Moodle and Totara, as these systems already have built-in digital badge issuing capability. Partnered with their sister products, Mahara and Totara Social, receivers of the organisational issued digital badges can host them in their own online learning space as an all-encompassing digital badge organisational solution.

The difficulty comes if you would like to design and manage your own badges, and/or embed more sophisticated meta-data, but there is plenty of help around if you would like to go down this path.

Where to next?

First and foremost, it is crucial to consider the importance of being a learning organisation with regard to the success of your business, and how you are managing that now. Is there room for improvement, especially in meeting compliance? If there is, review some of the links in this article and do some of your own research to learn more about digital badges.

Alternatively, contact the eWorks team to discuss how you can use digital badges to track and manage your staff’s development.

Building learner foundation skills is your responsibility

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller is a member of eWorks’ team of accredited consultants, and a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Allison is passionate about providing learners with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. Today she discusses the importance of foundation skills in general, as well as how they are linked VET FEE-HELP loans.

LLN and VET Fee-Help (VFH reforms)

One of the recent VET Fee-Help (VFH) reforms is the requirement that a learner who does not have a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education must complete Language Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) assessment to be eligible for a VET FEE-HELP loan. This type of assessment has been around for a while for State-based government funded training, and highlights the ongoing agenda to improve the language, literacy and numeracy of Australian adults (also see Allison’s Language, literacy and numeracy skills – how technology can help blog post).

This move to improve our learners’ core skills includes a foundation skill section in all new and updated units of competency. This section outlines the LLN and employment skills which a learner needs to demonstrate in order to be deemed competent for the unit. This means all VET practitioners using units with foundation skills explicitly included in them need to be assessing their learners’ required foundation skills.  

Ideally, more and more VET practitioners will do the TAELLN411 unit to help them understand how to address adult LLN skills gaps. However, competency in this unit is only the beginning of a VET practitioner’s journey, as each learner cohort will present different LLN needs, so it is important to know how to support that journey past the starting point.

What foundation skills might need to be addressed?

Even though learners may successfully pass the pre-enrolment LLN assessment as part of the requirements to access Government funded training, they may still present with some foundation skill gaps for one or more units within the qualification they are undertaking.

The explicit foundation skills being mapped in each unit come from either:

How will I know if my learners have foundation skill gaps?

The foundation skills section in each qualification unit describes each foundation skill and maps it to a unit’s performance criteria. Further analysis is required by a VET practitioner, however, to determine which of the five levels of performance in the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) their learners should be performing to in order to deem them as competent for each unit. There are three steps to this process:

  1. Determine the foundation skill level or stage for a unit by identifying the embedded trigger or action words within the unit’s performance criteria (PC).  

An example would be TAELLN411 PC 1.2 Identify and analyse the LLN skill requirements essential to the workplace performance. Here the action words ‘identify’ and ‘analyse’ are Reading foundation skills, and the knowledge/related word = ‘LLN skill requirements’.

  1. Analyse the Australian Core Skills Framework performance levels based on the action word(s) (Leske and Francis, ND).

This is done by determining how these action words best match those in the five levels of ACSF Performance Variables Grid (ACSF, pg 14). For TAELLN411: the Foundation Skill Reading refers to interpreting and analysing information, indicating a level 3-4 of task complexity, text complexity, context and support performance indicators for this unit, which refer to such terms as ‘requires minimal support’, ‘includes specialised vocabulary’ etc.

You continue to do this for each foundation skills for the whole unit, to get the overall level for each foundation skill. For example, Reading – Level 3-4, Oral Communication – Level 3 etc.

  1. Identify whether each learner cohort has any foundation skill gaps through diagnostic and formative activities at the beginning of, and during, their training program.  

This is best done through activities which improve learners’ unit knowledge.   For the TAELLN411 this can be done through questioning or brainstorming each learner’s LLN workplace requirements for their industry requirements, either as a group or as individuals.

You will often find that only an individual or small number of learners will present with one or two foundation skills gaps. This is important, however, because even one skill gap needs to be addressed for the learner(s) to be deemed competent.

What strategies and tools can address each foundation skill gap?

Once you have established your learners’ foundation skills gaps, consider some of the following strategies and tools to help your learners build these skills:

Foundation Skill

Strategies and tools to address the gap

Learning

  • Incorporating reflective or self-assessment journals using blog/micro-blogs such as Mahara e-portfolio, WordPress or Twitter.
  • Encouraging conversations (ie reflective dialogue) around topics using online groups in Facebook, LinkedIn, Edmodo or Yammer.
  • Getting learners to teach each other using Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom.
  • Helping learners establish action plans using Mahara eportfolio, Evernote or Google Calendars.

Reading

  • Encouraging learners to read and comment on each other’s blog / journal, social media posts.
  • Providing audio versions of text so learners can read this information while listening to someone else reading it aloud.
  • Getting learners to record themselves reading the content using their mobile phone voice recorder and then listening to them self.
  • Incorporating images, diagrams, flowcharts etc which help learners to visualise text / content.

Writing

  • Using Moodle discussion forums or chat rooms for group debates, sharing researched information, problem solving or scenario-based learning.
  • Incorporating collaborative / group writing activities using Moodle wiki or Google Docs.
  • Encouraging peer reviews of learner work / ideas via social media groups.

Oral Communication

  • Incorporating learner presentations using webinar tools such as the Big Blue Button.
  • Getting learners to create screencasts, podcasts or videos of workplace scenarios using Screenr, Podbean and YouTube (respectively).
  • Encouraging learners to create animations of information that they have researched using Powtoon.

Numeracy

  • Using the Numbers (14.01) Toolbox to practice calculations, measurements and other mathematical formulas.
  • Encouraging learners to use Google Calendars for time management and assignment deadlines.
  • Using online calculations and converters such as ATO tax tables, time/currency converter sites, and insurance quoting etc.

Overwhelmed? Here is a quick summary

Building upon all learners’ foundation skills is important in order to meet the growing skill needs in Australian businesses.  A range of strategies are being implemented to support this, including explicitly outlining the foundation skill requirements of all new units of competency.  This change means that it is the responsibility of all VET practitioners to:

  • identify the foundation skills levels within each unit of competency, and
  • use a range of training and assessment strategies to ensure their learners are performing at the required foundation skill levels to pass a unit

Where else can you get help with addressing foundation skill gaps?

  • It is a good idea to seek Foundation Skills / LLN specialists support when you have individual learners who present with larger foundation skill gaps, or larger cohorts of learners who need help building their foundation skills. These specialists may be people within your RTO or staff in your local adult and community education sector.  
  • LLN & VET Meeting Place write regular blog posts, offer links to resources and run webinar events on this topic.  
  • eWorks provide excellent foundation skills educational design and content development services.