Tech = Art + Science

Driving in my classic car, listening to Grover Washington Jr on cassette tape (honestly, after all this car is 30 years old), I marvelled at how reliable this car is and how little tech was involved all those years ago in these machines, but mixing old thoughts with new, I realised just how technology is both art and science today. It is worth a post.

I think the biggest opportunities lie where technology is able to span both; let me explain why and how with education in mind.

Tech is science: one of the greatest opportunities in education is where technology can create a market segment of one: the individual. Where tech can help us create personalised learning so that students can learn at their own pace and level, and achieve goals and qualifications that are unique to their requirements, career aspirations and future. Tailored learning to suit a unique need at one point in time.

Tech is art: I experienced this a second time with air travel recently, where the entire check-in process was automated and I, as the traveller, had to self-serve. This is a masterstroke. Companies putting technology in place to allow customers to check-in themselves, print out their own documents, weigh their own luggage, print their own tags and calling it improved customer service – while saving costs all along the journey. How can technology help and even encourage people to learn, test and credential themselves, consuming small modules to achieve a goal, then move on to the next one? How can we utilise technology to predict, based on past learnings, what we need to do next?

I assembled the idea for this post sitting in traffic. I wonder as we get older whether we start going back to the old days, where we can be creative and have time to think, and not worry about the InBox.

School as base camp

subbuteo

My team co-hosted a great seminar with the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) this month, and it underlines what technology will never replace – the benefit that people gain from being in a room networking, asking questions and sharing best practice with each other – in other words learning in the real world.

In his book, Open, David Price talks about learning becoming authentic when it has a specific purpose, impact beyond schooling and supports a student’s communities.

What is school about, if it isn’t helping prepare young people for the real world, however small the steps of progress? My daughter returned from her Duke of Edinburgh trek this weekend tired, frazzled and aching from the backpack which stood almost as tall as her. But the experience was priceless and taught her how set up camp, prepare food and work in a team to navigate walks and hazards to reach their destination – the greatest challenge for them was the intermittent phone signal.

Education has to reflect what industry is looking for in skills. It has a tough time keeping up as it is, with first year degree material becoming out of date before graduation, so there has to be a genuine link between what is taught and its relevance to the real world – after all, kids are already more engaged via devices and the online world than we ever will be.

I do wonder, however, how these kids would have coped in the 70s; with just Subbuteo, a bicycle and local park to contend with.

Live Differently

Ignacio Cubilla Banos sits in his house during his 111th birthday celebration in Havana

I was reading with interest a claim that the first humans to live way into their hundreds are alive today, and remembered this great picture of Ignacio Cubilla Banos, around whom there was a story as he celebrated his 111th birthday at his home in Havana surrounded by his family a few years back. It made me think.

If the next generations are going to live way beyond a hundred, how many cycles of learning will they require just to stay up to date with change? Surely they will need a 50 to 60 year career, so learning will need to evolve in parallel.

What we learn today doesn’t carry for very long – we have to refresh what we know almost constantly (think of the story of the university degree, and what a student learns in year 1 is out of date by the time they graduate). As our knowledge and skills become redundant we will have to stay on the cycle of learn-and-apply just to allow us to keep up.

I have variations of this quoted on Twitter and other platforms:

My father had 1 job in his entire lifetime.

My job at Pearson is my 5th in 30 years.

My kids will quite possibly have 5 jobs at any one time.

This is the future.

Education must be relevant

Building BlocksA number of clients are strategising around the skills gap topic – building education to meet a new-world, technology-led demand of smaller, bite-size modules of learning.

Technology allows us to read, watch videos and learn on a commute to work, so learning has to satisfy this new way that consumers digest content. But what is critical is that the outcomes of this education must be recognised by employers as having relevancy in the workplace. I recall my days at technology association CompTIA, working closely with Dell, Intel and others to build programmes that related directly to the job roles and the work – to help their people make an immediate contribution.

Tesco worked with us to develop a certification programme to upskill their store staff as part of a strategy to grab market share in the retail electronics marketplace – and they did it impressively, by building learning-plus-certification that had currency in their sector.

As we are in Wimbledon season, it is appropriate to mention the tennis. Especially in the early rounds, the tournament offers up mismatches in competition, but in the skills arena, it is as evident as it ever was – millions unemployed across Europe and yet employers have 4m vacancies that remain unfilled. We have to address it.

A morsel of MOOC

Big cheese

American inventor Charles Kettering said, “We should all be concerned about the future because we will spend the rest of our lives there.” With that, more of us are sitting up and taking note.

Technology continues to disrupt all industries and no more so than where it intersects with education. The idea of a single education followed by a single career is long in the past, so we have to take control of our portfolio of skills and continue to upgrade and refine it regardless of the work we do. We have to stay in touch, not just with gadgets and technology but what we know, as the sector we work in evolves at pace.

MOOCs such as FutureLearn are examples of technology helping us managing this requirement – short bursts of learning relevant to an immediate work need – or even an interest. Learning about photography, about wine, film or an historical event, can be the most pleasurable of all, plus it makes for a well-rounded individual.

With careers no longer linear and tenure within job roles around the 3-4 year range, we must learn to adapt, constantly learn, move sideways and even be prepared for downward steps, before we make upward moves on the long journey to the “big cheese” position.

Get ready for the ride, it will be different and is likely to be bumpy.

Workplace in the classroom

future learning

I was delighted to be asked to present at the 2014 National Apprenticeships conference at the Film Museum last week. I talked about technology and education coming together and the inextricable link between learning and working.

I shared a story from 100+ years ago and the World Fair in St Louis. The man that was selling ice cream ran out of paper cups, and the exhibitor next to him who was selling waffles decided to roll them flat and curl them into the shape of a handheld cone. Thus the ice cream cone was born. Two distinct ‘ingredients’, no connection between the two, coming together to create something completely new.

Now I applied that connection to work and education (thanks Noel Tagoe, Executive Director at CIMA, for the inspiration). Companies have to be part of the education process and give young people a chance to get a taste of what the world of work is all about. We should all be giving apprenticeships an opportunity to sample the workplace and make working a part of the overall learning experience. Similarly, employers have to be involved in influencing education, so that what is taught in the classroom has relevance in the workplace. Then, when students start on their career path, they can make a contribution from day one. Let’s stop teaching irrelevancies, no wonder kids switch off and turn to their phones every 6 minutes.

Classroom in the workplace, workplace in the classroom – that is the future.

Pick-and-Mix

I enjoyed being a part of the ‘Voice of Apprenticeships’ Conference this week, where I presented immediately before Skills Minister Matthew Hancock MP. I shared my views on how technology is changing not just how we must think about educating the next generation but how we engage and reach these students today.

MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, are getting a lot of press currently and the UK’s FutureLearn programme led by the Open University is leading the way. Smartphones and tablets are changing how we absorb information and education must follow suit, in smaller, bite-sized chunks, when and where the learner chooses to digest it.

Education may well take the form of a pick-and-mix bag of choices, but hopefully not as expensive as the pick-and-mix outlets selling confectionery. It may be that the role of the education institution includes tracking and approving building blocks of learning that add up to a unique qualification and that very few degrees actually look the same, but are pieced together based on an individual’s requirements and more importantly, the needs of a job role and the workplace.

What are the choices? History and prestige means the top tier universities will always have a demand for places, because of the prestige of having the institution listed on one’s CV or profile on LinkedIn. But for the rest, there is no choice. The majority of learning establishments have to change their value proposition; a student in a small town in England, or even as far as Africa or Asia, won’t pay to attend a mediocre lecture, when they can learn online from world experts.

The MOOC thing

Technology continues to disrupt and next in line is education. There has been a lot written about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and many renowned institutions are involved – Harvard, MIT, Stanford and more recently the Open University here in the UK with their FutureLearn model. The Khan Academy, launched by Salman Khan, delivers 200m classes via YouTube, with zero hosting costs, now that is clever.

MOOCs are still trying to establish their model and this may take some time, but what is really important is that traditional learning institutions cannot just sit back and disregard this wave of change. I accept that tier-one universities such as Harvard or Cambridge will always have demand for places due to the prestige associated with studying there. But a student in Europe or Asia will refuse to pay large sums of money to sit in a mediocre lecture in their own country when they can learn online from world class tutors and be associated with a leading university.

Currently the MOOC interest is more about bridging the gap between current knowledge and acquiring new skills in order to do a better job, or find a new one. These modular, bite-sized chunks of learning are possibly the icing on the cake. If 5 candidates interview for one role and have a similar degree and one has an additional 20 certificates of mastery in a specific area of study, it is likely that their CV will stand out. In today’s world, it is all about differentiation. The modules offered by MOOCs not only allow an individual to keep up with changes in the business world but possibly in future even anticipate how market sectors will evolve.

This is just one example. Technology is breaking up the majority, the mainstream and the mundane. Which sector is next?

Dispel the myth

Having spent time with some very inspirational people at a conference recently, I recalled something Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, shared more than 10 years ago. I have never forgotten it and it holds true today more than ever before.

Employers are concerned that if they invest in, train and certify their staff, those individuals may leave the company to grab an opportunity to earn more money elsewhere. Yet money is not the number one motivator, as we have seen over and over again from numerous people studies.

“What if I train and certify my staff, and they leave?” asked one employer.

“What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay?” was the quite brilliant reply?

The shortest messages are usually those with the greatest impact.

We must dispel the myth.

‘I am nothing without my Nintendo DS’

A few years ago, my wife was attempting to take my son’s Nintendo DS away from him as a form of punishment for not listening to her. It was the toy he loved the most and like most kids that age, he was glued to the device. He was 8. He screamed “I am nothing without my Nintendo DS.” I was in my office shrieking with laughter at the dramatics. As I reflect today, there is a lesson there.

In Korea, families spend more of their disposable income (22%) than any other nation on their family’s education. Within 2 years, all elementary school education in Korea will be delivered via tablet or other device. In Kent in the South East of England, the Longfield Academy school has provided their students with an iPad (not entirely free, but that is besides the point). I think it goes without saying what has happened to the levels of immersion and concentration in the classroom in those institutions that have adopted the technology that kids were born with – they are digital natives after all.

I have talked before about technology, gadgetry and the internet being the ‘oxygen’ for our youngsters – for them a computer or smartphone is a gateway to a world of communications. So, let’s start building lessons and assignments on these devices, give them the gadgets so that the kids are learning via the tools they are so comfortable with. As Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, said earlier this year, a Victorian schoolteacher could quite easily pick up where she left off in delivering a class in today’s school.

The problem is more ours than theirs – give the kids the tools and technologies that they devour each day, and I think we will be pleasantly surprised by the levels of creativity and engagement.