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.

Remember, Remember

I am just back from co-hosting the Pearson VUE Global Sales Summit, where the business development and client support teams from round the globe descended on Minneapolis to discuss learning and assessment technologies, share case studies and talk futures. It was an excellent event.

At breakfast in the hotel the waiter asked me if I would like some cranberry juice, my morning potion. How did he remember after so many months? That is some service. This led me to think where I would like to see technology heading in the learning space, using IT to remember our learning preferences.

I have been involved in many discussions around lifelong learning and how it will be the responsibility of the individual to keep their skills up to date, as companies reduced their core and people move around from project to project putting their skills and expertise to use. What we need is an App on our devices that tracks our learning, recognises completion of a module specific to our immediate task at hand and then recommends when we are ready for the next stage, each time suggesting local providers, special offers and development opportunities.

If the technology at our disposal can recommend discounted meals, city breaks and electronic goods, why can it not also recommend bite-sized chunks of learning and tailored education – the most important investment of all?

‘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.

Computers are disappearing

We read stories of collaboration, social learning and communications evolving but how about the products that we use to facilitate these activities? They are fading into the background and before long, I can see (or not, as the case may be) a time when the device becomes invisible.

We saw the introduction of the infrared keyboard a year or so ago and I read forward-looking articles where the tables we dine in at restaurants will be embedded with the technology that allows you to order our bill, pay by credit card, send a take-away sample food box to a friend, all on the same interactive surface.

What else? I see phones disappearing into our clothing, communication devices that are integrated into the fabric of our coats and jackets, information beamed into our glasses and contact lenses, screens laid into walls and wallpaper which only come to the fore when they are needed.

The key is mobility, and reducing the weight of our bags and satchels as we race across our cities to the next meeting. Why carry laptop computers when we can access pop-up screens in cafes, beam the keyboard onto the coffee table and a holographic screen in front of us.

Before long, we will be online using the interior of our car windscreens (only when the engine is switched off) or via shopping mall display points, where combined with near-field communications (NFC) we will have the ability to search for a specific item of clothing, book a restaurant for lunch, a taxi to get home after a movie, and much more. The technology will be embedded into our every day existence, and there will be no need for separate devices.

The real beauty for me is how this facilitates learning – where we don’t have to go off for days at a time to understand an entire subject area if we only truly need a short 20-minute piece to help us with the task at hand. The technology will help up digest smaller, bite-sized chunks of learning, specific to a role or customer requirement – one tiny piece at a time, wherever we happen to be.

Technology allows us to have a go

I presented at the Pearson VUE Testing Centre Managers Conference and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The audience was full of comments and questions which showed me a genuine level of engagement.

I talked a lot about how the technology in our midst is shaping how we live and work, with a special emphasis on some of the trends that will impact how we learn in the future – on the go, in modular form and both alone and in social groups. The cool thing with technology that must be embraced is that there is never really a good time to start using it – to open a Twitter account, launch a Facebook page or start a YouTube channel – but it is so easy to have a go, to start and update and change as we progress and evolve. Technology facilitates trying things and learning along the way. Our mantra at Pearson is ‘Always Learning’ and technology in this respect encourages us to use these tools and platforms to try stuff and be comfortable with making a mistake, because you can adjust, correct and continue on your pathway to greatness.

The thing that pleased me the most about the conference is when a lady stood up at the end of my session and explained that she works part-time, whilst also creating music for meditation. She described how she has learned to create CDs of her music and put them onto CD Baby and has since made her first sale on Amazon. This is the beauty of technology.


I do like technology in the workplace and at home, but some things are clearly beyond my understanding. For example, more than 1% of the world’s population manage a virtual farm on Facebook (Farmville) and devote 20 minutes a day to managing an online vegetable patch!

Other things are clearer, such as the matter of jobs and learning. The world of work continues to change and jobs for life are extinct. We have to reorganise ourselves to be ready for portfolio work, increased life expectancy and an ageing population. Interest in entrepreneurship is on the rise, lifestyle businesses more popular and technology and social media combine to flatten the world. In IT, job roles are moving up the value chain as IT moves closer to the customer and therefore the revenue line. It is possible that most of the future IT jobs will be outsourced to IT providers and most of the employment will come from these supplier/partner companies.

The CIO of Johnson and Johnson was recently quoted as saying, “I believe the idea of hiring people for a job is well past.” My view is that IT is at the head of this particular table, with the future being more about job rotation programmes and flexible career paths, combining technical skills with the business-savvy.

It will be down to each of us as individuals to keep our skills refreshed and up to date, down to our ‘Learnability’, how fast we can forget the old and learn the new as we transition from project to project, department to department and company to company.

Reading and Dreaming

I have taken this quiet Christmas holiday period to read lots of interesting material, from Alan Sugar’s ‘Way I See It” to “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins and monthly editions of Forbes, Fortune and Wired magazine as well as countless articles and opinion pieces around technology trends, the impact of social media, and skills and talent issues. Next up are Neville Isdell’s book ‘Inside Coca Cola’, describing the making and marketing of Coca Cola from the perspective of his role as Chairman and CEO, and ‘Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes.

I can’t get enough of things to read, and my new role at Pearson allows me train journeys to digest lots of new material. I read recently that one successful individual recommends 3 things everyone should read – and I agree 100%:

1) Biographies of successful people; 2) Something to do with a thought, such as Michael Porter on competitive advantage or Peter Drucker on management; 3) Books that inspire you to go beyond yourself.

With the year having raced to an end, I believe we can claim to be a little bit wiser than we were 12 months ago, and this quote by Victor Hugo sets the stage for the new year best of all: “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”

A Happy and Healthy New Year to all.

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 www.comptia.org/uk.

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.

Is email passé?

I wonder how long it will take before email is passé. Our youngsters today are less inclined to send email because it is too long a process, and instant messaging is fast and with-it! I hear some unversities have stopped distributing email accounts to their students, and instead are giving out eReaders, iPads and Tablet computers – that’s the kind of place I would like to study.