Week 1: Drilling Into TEL Concepts and Approaches for #OCTEL

This week’s entry on reflections of Technology and Learning Concepts and Approaches for the OCTEL MOOC have been interesting.  In particular one video about how dentists are trained to drill a tooth through the use of sophisticated simulations.

I hate going to the dentist at the best of times.  When I’m in the chair, my white knuckles grip my belt buckle and with my mouth wide open, I stare at the bright light above me and ponder life’s mysteries like:

  • “Does he know what he’s doing?
  • “How did my dentist train for his degree?”
  • “How did he practice doing root canals?”
  • “How does he extract teeth from dummies?”
  • “Can people elect to volunteer themselves to be in the ‘Dentist-Under-Training’ chair in return for cheaper dental services?”
  • “He better not hit a nerve….”

So watching the video on Dentistry school really answered many of those questions for me.  I was impressed with the level of detail in the simulation and how they had linked the drilling to the trainee dentist to FEEL what they were doing.

Now THAT’s a learning experience.  Dare I say it,  if I was learning dentistry (probably in an alternate reality), this would be the way I’d want to learn.  You better want to have that root canal done right.

So here are my reflections for this week’s activities.

Activity 1.1 Champions and Critics of Teaching Machines

I had a chuckle with the video on “Teaching Machines”.   Is that an oxymoron?  Teaching Machines, calculators, computers, laptops, iPads – to me, it doesn’t matter.  Whether it was 1954 or 2013 – it seems everyone is hung up on the technology.

(There’s something about tactility in learning.  Look at how they touch, feel, turn, write, use the machine but there’s still something missing in the picture.  The students look robotic because there’s no interactivity and engagement with other students!)

I’m also unsure what these “Teaching Machines” actually did or worked as it’s not clear in the video.

If we are really picky, we can even say that Teaching Machines can be humans too.  I know many people at work who would love to describe themselves as “Teaching Machines” and maybe even claim it as a badge of honour.

We were asked to select one or two from the list of thinkers and then consider whether they would like the Teaching Machine approach, what would they oppose and what alternatives would they propose.

I chose to read up on Etienne Wenger and his Communities of Practice simply because I had come across the concept many times in recent years through the work of Harold Jarche (@hjarche).  However, I cannot tell you what Etienne Wenger would have thought about the ‘Teaching Machine” but when I looked at the dates of when his books were published, I quickly realised that technology may not have been the huge driver in his thinking.

He mentions that in order for a Community of Practice to occur, you need a shared domain, a community and the practice.  He also mentions that it is the interactions that are essential and not the technology.

I searched through his site and found this excellent start up guide.  It’s a tool that can be used to explain and promote communities of practice.  Technology is mentioned but only as an enabler in the ‘support’ function and he even says, “without undue emphasis on fancy technology”.

Therein is the answer to this activity.

When I look at my life, my Community Of Practice happens to be a small group of lovely people whom I’ve never met scattered around the world (strangely enough, many of them Canadian)  in my Personal Learning Network.  I can ask questions, share information and learn from them.

However, this year there has been a surprising turn of events at work.  There is now also a very small group of people in my organisation who are slowly becoming my community of practice but whose relationship with me is extending outside the organisation.  We started connecting inside the organisation through Yammer, but now they are discovering Twitter, joining my wider learning network or seeking their own.

My Community of Practice engages me.  They’ve revived an interest in my profession. They’ve made me question, reflect and deliberate.  They’ve opened my eyes to possibilities.  They’ve made me take off my fish-eye lens view of learning and put on panorama lens so that I could see the wider picture.  All of a sudden my small world bound within the four walls of organisational learning team in our physical building is not enough and I want to experiment, trial and pilot new things with my business.  The ones who are in my network understand this, the others just look at me curiously and are charmed by my enthusiasm.

I may not have met many of these people in my PLN face to face but I believe that if and when I do, there’ll be an instant but a deeper connection more than I have with many colleagues I see on a daily basis.

But I don’t think my CoP thinks about the technology.  In real life, we meet people out in the street, at restaurants, at cafes, in our homes.  Online, we happen to meet each other on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogs and other places.

What’s the difference?

(Except that we may be in our pajamas when we meet them online)

Activity 1.2 My Approach to Learning 

Reflecting on my approach to learning by using the Learning Activity Graph it’s evident that I’m an Autonomous and Social Learner.  Through reflection and blogging, I try to make sense of what I learn and then apply it to the workplace.  I like to be in an environment where  I’m not controlled or directed.

However I don’t know if this is something inherent in a person or if some people are simply more comfortable in a more directive and controlled learning environment.  I have come across many people in organisations that I have worked for that believe that if you’re not in a classroom – you’re not learning – and they take a long time to be influenced otherwise.

Another possibility is that the older we get, the less we tolerate the things that don’t make sense to us and are likely to question these.

I wrote about one recent awful experience on a Face to Face course I attended called My Experience of a Face-to-Face Course: The Hope has Faded.  

In the past, I would have accepted this form of learning because I wouldn’t have known the difference.

Not so today.

Activity 1.3 Put yourself in the shoes of a student on a course you might be teaching, and share your ideas

I felt so bad writing the above post that I had to rethink it and come up with how I would have liked the course to have been conducted considering my own personal learning style and then wrote The Face to Face Course Has Renewed Hope  .

This is a perfect example of trying to redesign a course into another quadrant.  Effectively I changed the format from directive to a more collaborative using real client problems to solve business issues.

In another recent example, I was working with a Lending Services team who had to learn product knowledge to best serve their customers.  Usually product knowledge was rote learning of brochures, flyers and information on the intranet – boring!  In fact, the team leaders were dreading this because in the past, the training was ineffective and boring for their learners but they never knew of any other way to learn about products.

So one night I was watching the TV show, “Come Dine With Me” where participants host dinners with guests and they rate each other on the food and atmosphere and an idea came over me.  What if we could use a similar concept to Product Knowledge but have the team members drive their own learning?

So I pitched the idea to the two team leaders and here it is in a nutshell.

“Come and Have a Coffee With Us”

  1. The team is split into two groups.
  2. Groups are to come up with their own Group Name/Identity
  3. Groups are then given list of Products that they are to learn about and then create their own content (in any format) to TEACH the other group on these in the most memorable way
  4. Groups will present/teach/coach/conduct their sessions in a coffee session where team leaders will provide coffee/tea and biscuits and muffins in an informal, fun,  social environment
  5. Groups are to assess the other group on the product and achieve a pass mark
  6. Groups are given total freedom to create content in whatever format they want (as they are not assessed on this but whether the other group learns their products and achieves a pass)

So what happened?

Groups quickly banded together, learned their respective products and thought about how they were going to present the material.  Both groups decided that video was going to be the main medium but they blended it with some pre-reading and presentation.  They sent out some pre-reading material to links, and on the session gave a quick features and benefits run down of the product, then they cut to a video podcast of how they APPLIED that product to a real life scenario with a banker and a customer role play and finally, at the end of the presentation conducted a question and answer session.  The videos created memory triggers in the other group’s mind and they quickly learned about the products.

With the informal learning environment, the team bonding and the enthusiasm of the task, both groups later expressed to me that it was the “most fun they had in learning about product knowledge” .  (They had even created a ‘Big Brother’ like video for me talking into the camera, talking about their experience on the task and thanking me on having so much fun learning an otherwise dry subject of banking products).

However the benefits back to the team leaders was that they now had a team who bonded and who talked and learned from each other.  They were also exposed to the fact that in order to learn, you don’t need a classroom.

And the winner?  Really both groups were winners and the team leaders happy but my success factor was that I had one member of that team later come up to me and explore a career change into Learning and Development.  This was my win!

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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9 Responses to Week 1: Drilling Into TEL Concepts and Approaches for #OCTEL

  1. Pingback: The (dodgy) foundations of technology enhanced learning #ocTEL | Learningcreep

  2. Pingback: What I Learned In April | Activate Learning Solutions

  3. Good point Phil about how to integrate the social aspects into the learning so that the assessment doesn’t drive the social learning activity. This is going to be interesting in a corporate environment as one of the challenges is getting the L&D consultants to INCLUDE the social aspect in the learning (whether it’s peer to peer or through a medium like Yammer or Sharepoint spaces).

    This is going to be an area of development for our own L&D teams to undergo so that they are aware that we are better off learning in a social situation and not immediately creating another training program.

    Thanks for your comments! 🙂

  4. Hi helen, I don’t think that blogging is an individual activity (just look at this blog!), although reflection surely is. The fact that you think carefully about things and formulate QUESTIONS shows the essential social bit of learning (co-creating knowledge with others/ for others). and when you were experientially learning (in action) it was likely a mix of the experience (~feel of it) and the social (getting instruction). There are indeed experiential activities that are mastered totally autonomously but probably not as many as you’d think… (even with individual sports training you are better off LEARNING in a social situation, although practising alone…)

    Perhaps then the question is how to integrate the social aspects more into the learning situation so the (individual) assessment activities don’t drive the (social) learning activity.

  5. crumphelen says:

    Great discussion, and thanks Phil. It was good to be reminded that more often than not, it’s the assessment tail wagging the dog, and for sharing the link to the handy Actor Network Theory video.

  6. Thanks for the comment Phil, and also for the brilliant YouTube video that describes the Actor-Network theory! I’m going to use it as it explains what we are going through at work recently with the move to get more people to use our Enterprise Social Networking platform (Yammer) but also the questions the Learning and Development department will soon be asking about integrating it with learning programs. (They’re not asking YET simply because many of them have not made the connection that ESN can be used for learning and many of them are not on it anyway – but they soon will. I’m just preparing for the onslaught of questions and one of which will be – as it is always – around the technology focus – when it shouldn’t be).

  7. Good point Helen. For me, my initial preference is individual autonomous (with the reflection, blogging etc) but I have to socialise my ideas someway back at work with colleagues or those who are interested in the activities. When I think back to how I learn, in classes, I was always the one who was quiet and digested the information, things ticking over in my mind – and last to put up my hand to ask questions. I recall my teachers telling me that my questions were always well thought out simply because I had time to think about the content and try to see its application to the task at hand. However, I did like then getting into groups who were also active and wanted to learn (and who equally shared responsibility) to try and make sense of the content and apply it. My best times were when we did experiential training such as fighting real fires, learning how to shore up holes in bulk heads in flooding compartments – and other exciting REAL stuff in teams and then debriefing these experiences with everyone. That’s when I had my real a-ha moments.

    Of course we can’t do these types of activities in our daily work all the time but I’ve found the times I’ve been on project teams pulled together to work on a problem as one of the better learning experiences for me. So in that sense, I guess I sway between individual (first) then application (through social) next.

  8. hi helens, great posts. i love the bit about the community of practice making you more enthusiastic about your work again. i think that is what other people do in all areas of life (if they’re the right people lol).

    regarding the individual to social spectrum, i think it is useful for a teacher to think about whether the activity is pitched as collaborative or individual, and if it is individual, taking the point above, would it be better facilitated in a social sense. Autonomous learning is well suited to things where there is a great deal of personal motivation, (and with the case of MOOCs have a high degree of digital literacy) but is this the case for most learning that happens. It seems to me that the activities are more often than not determined by the assessment, which is ‘easier’ to do in an individual sense, but perhaps not effective as a LEARNING methodology.

    Regarding CoPs, I think Wenger is at the other end of the scale to the ‘teaching machine’, as CoPs are about co-creation, whereas teaching machines are about behaviouristic learning of existing knowledge.

    “But I don’t think my CoP thinks about the technology. In real life, we meet people out in the street, at restaurants, at cafes, in our homes”

    You may find this paper on Weak Ties in Networked communities interesting. http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/19/02/50/PDF/Jones-Chris-2006.pdf and you may also like to look up Actor-Network theory, which pitches humans and technology as the same within the network (the interactions are what matter)

    #octel

  9. crumphelen says:

    Nice blog post, Helen.
    I don’t suppose it was any great surprise to find that you’re a social autonomous learner. What struck me though, when I looked at the learning graph, was that it seemed to be the activities that helped to define the type of learner. I would have said that I’m a social autonomous learner too, but when I looked at the activities, it puts me in the individual autonomous learner category. Blogs/dissertations etc, yes, that’s me alright, whereas the activities that denote a social autonomous learner were pitched as collaborative commentary on resources, group projects and problem solving. Well, I can do those as well, just as you can blog, so I’m not too sure that the social – individual binary is that big a deal; it looks like a matter of context to me. What’s more important, I feel, is the difference between directed and autonomous learning and where one is on that journey. Thanks. I enjoy reading your posts.

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