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.

Inspiration with Zenos

As a young man growing up, I followed many sports stars – Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalgish, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but my sporting inspiration was Zinedine Zidane. He was so naturally gifted and so intelligent with the ball. This week, I found inspiration not with footballers, but at youngsters no more than 18 years old who won the apprentice of the year awards at the Zenos annual conference, where I also had the pleasure of presenting my view on the ‘Evolution of IT, Jobs and Learning’.

Zenos is a quite amazing company. 400 staff, mostly young and very dynamic, but what really stands out is the camaraderie, the culture and the ethos that drives this team of people led by Jason Moss and his management team. They live to help the next generation acquire the skills that will set them on the road to a new chapter in their lives, a career IT.

I selected Ashleigh Carr as the Zenos-CompTIA apprentice of the year.  He is 18 years-old. He has Crohn’s disease. Our CompTIA A+ certification helped him find himself and a job at the Royal Bank of Scotland in IT Support. Most of 400+ audience were in tears as I presented the award to him (and we gave Ashleigh a 3D LED TV as a cool gift to go along with his award). We must never forget, this is why we exist, helping Ashleigh and others like him to get a job and make progress in the world of technology.

I will always love football, basketball and most other sports, and I will always enjoy watching the best talent grace our stadia. But this week has taught me that our inspiration comes from these youngsters, who overcome adversity to achieve results and aim high, and get the jobs they apply for. If that is our future, there is hope. Presenting at Zenos this week, and handing out this award, was my finest hour at CompTIA. Thank you Jason, Claire, Nicky, Richard and all the fantastic Zenos team.

The routes into IT

The problem with IT’s image is not just that the opportunities aren’t well represented, but also that routes in are poorly understood. People assume they need an IT degree, then hear that lots of IT graduates (amongst other graduates) are struggling to find jobs.

I believe the focus on academia is misplaced for IT. IT degrees are good for some but are not the only way. For many organisations, hands on experience gained through IT trainers (eg QA, Just IT, Firebrand, Zenos) and backed by industry certifications count for much more.

CompTIA designs certifications with industry to identify the skills they need. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, etc, take much the same approach. Students we speak to who take certifications, such as CompTIA A+ followed by their vendor certification of choice, consistently land rewarding jobs.

When discussing IT careers – in IT lessons, careers advice sessions or the media – we should be clearer about how students can get in, and shift the focus away from IT degrees as the de facto route. This may work to our advantage – as education costs soar, a professional career with a recognised industry certification track may become very attractive.

Furthermore, we’d like to see this real-world focused approach throughout IT education, particularly GCSEs and beyond. We need to teach IT in a practical, exciting way which relates to how it is used in real life, as the aforementioned IT trainers do with great success. This will not only inspire more young people into IT and increase understanding of how to get there, it will also ensure they have the skills to get the jobs they want.

CompTIA has just completed a guide which hopes to help young people understand the many exciting options that a career in IT offers and can be viewed here. This blog post first appeared in Computer Weekly magazine.

ICT education must grow up

It’s all very well talking about how IT is an exciting career, but unless we start telling people about it, we’re not going to attract the people we need.

This all starts with education. Too many secondary schools have an IT curriculum which teaches Word and Excel and other subjects pupils already know about. This is boring.

We don’t teach 14 year old English students how to read, we teach an understanding of literature and use it to cultivate analytical, evaluation and communication skills. Similarly, IT should give students an understanding of how technology works and the tools to use it in productive and creative ways. It should teach subjects which, for those who enjoy IT, can be developed into relevant career skills.

Once students are excited about IT, we need to ensure that when they look for advice – from careers advisors, parents or teachers – these people have the materials to explain what IT can offer. The IT industry can help by providing these materials. CompTIA, for example has just completed a guide for use by such people to explain careers in IT and how we can help. Those interested can download the guide, called Be Part of the Future, from

We also need people who will fly the flag in the media. Perhaps we could even find a champion who can do for IT what James Dyson did for engineering. An even better result would be for IT professionals to volunteer to visit their local schools or college and tell students why they love their career.

It’s a big job, but as an industry we need to find ways to share our love of IT with young people. As appeared in Computer Weekly magazine.

A Wii in the classroom

Now some may interpret the headline as nerves getting the better of a kid on his first day at school! But this is something entirely different.

The Financial Times was recently quoted as saying more than 86m units of the Wii have been shipped, so why aren’t we using these consoles in the classroom? The president of Nintendo is keen for the new Wii U “to fundamentally change the structure of entertainment.” Pictured to the right, the Wii U controller has a touchscreen as well as the traditional controls which can create different interactions between players. Its ability to help retain focus is another interesting point.

Because kids are seen to have a multitude of applications on the go at once – Messenger, music/radio, Facebook, school homework and more – we think they can’t focus. Nonsense I say. These kids have a laser focus, just not with the boring stuff their schools feed them. I think the time has come to fully integrate these consoles into the learning process and just watch the results. The University of Wolverhampton in the Midlands of the UK has been doing this for a couple of years with tremendous outcomes of inclusion and benefits to all parties.

Which brings me on to another timely area of debate, and that is graduation time. With so many students happy and hopeful their studies are over and looking forward to the wide world of work, have we prepared them well? Students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills and then cast out into a different world requiring a totally different skill set, left alone of course to work this out for themselves! Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and purse their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live it, but as we know, very few people at graduate age can take an inward journey and instead need to encounter the experience to truly define the path they ultimately take – and these days, it isn’t just one path, but a series of very different walkways and careers on the way to wisdom.

Did I really plan a career in the IT arena with a ‘major’ in certification – no chance. Do I love the experience today, no question. Some call it the cart before the horse.

Everyone should be a part of IT

Carlota Perez, leading economist at Cambridge University and an expert in global techno-economic paradigm shifts, explains that every 70 years, a disruptive technology emerges that alters the foundations of the economy. The 5 ages of transformation to date include the industrial revolution; the age of steam and railways; the age of steel, electricity and heavy engineering; the age of oil, cars and mass production; and the age of information and telecommunications.

It interests me to see the technology changing so much and so fast. Will technology ever reach a settling point or just continue to evolve ad infinitum; it cannot be too long before it becomes a utility much like electricity and gas, and I can see just one global and seamless wireless network where every device we purchase is connected.

Technology has been a catalyst for taking away precious time – by being better connected we are working longer hours. On the train to London this week I counted as many people on their smart devices as those reading or sleeping and you can just see the frustration as we travelled through a tunnel and they lost connectivity! I look forward to when my fridge has sensors and RFID chips embedded in its doors that recognise when I am out of bread and milk and can order it on my behalf, when my camera (or phone) automatically uploads my photos to my piece of the Cloud immediately as I am taking them and my casserole tells me which ingredients go next into the pan – all so I can get back some of the previous time that technology has taken away in the first place!

So where has the week raced away to exactly? It included a long trip to South Africa for the CompTIA member conference in Johannesburg, a great networking and education event for the leading IT vendors and training companies, and then swiftly back again to host meetings with some of our largest partnerships in Europe: Zenos, the UK’s leading IT apprenticeship provider, the Oxford and Cambridge examinations board (OCR) and Intel. Intel are diversifying into some cool new areas, look forward to seeing more of that. Is there a connection between the people I met this week, regardless of location and business focus – there clearly is. Each party is looking for ways to improve the skills of their staff, customers and partners to differentiate them in the workplace. Technology appears to be accelerating change, and yet we don’t have the skills we need to even keep pace with the demands. There is a common recognition that unless we have the skilled people in place to manage and develop this technology, and to put it to effective use, we may not get the best out of it from all quarters, and quite possibly never get the time back that so many people crave.

The two fellows in this picture were idling away in the sunshine at the Lion & Rhino Park in Johannesburg earlier this week – not a care in the world as we drove past. I wonder if they heard about Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iCloud! 

CompTIA Member Conference

Strange feeling you get when an event is over for another year. All the build up and hard work, I didn’t want it to end. Our CompTIA Member Conference 2010 was a success. Great people, great exchange and great networking. To see 400 delegates work the floor, make new contacts and engage in conversation made me very proud. Our role at CompTIA is all about bringing the IT community together, to learn, network, engage and explore, and I felt we achieved that. Lots of focused roundtables and panel sessions with real quality and industry expertise. My personal highlight was the brilliant keynote presentation by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, peppered with humour, ace delivery and the very best in storytelling.