Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Training 3.0

These days it has become a fashion to write 2.0 for everything in life, and thus, I decided to write something beyond! But, is that so simple? Interestingly, while analyzing the training technologies of the past and the present, it so happened that training has actually traversed three stages, and here I outline these as follows:

Training 1.0 -- The classroom-based training: Here, essentially the trainer and the trainee meet face to face in the training room or the workplace. The trainer used a variety of tools and technologies to deliver training, including the use of Over Head Transparencies, Slides, PowerPoint, Multimedia CDs, and Computer-Based Training used in Instructor Lead situations. Training was cost and labour intensive, and most of the time difficult to assess the effectiveness of the training.

Training 2.0 -– The Online Training: This is the second-generation training, where training was delivered in a networked situation using Learning Management Systems (LMS), Knowledge Management System (KMS) and Employee Performance Support Systems (EPSS). Essentially, the systems used Internet or Intranet for the delivery of text, audio, video, multimedia, and animation supported by group and individual communication to facilitate learning. This kind of training, is normally referred as eLearning in the training industry and by the human resource development professionals, added enormous benefits to the training and development professionals in terms of cost cutting, and time saving, leading to increased return of investments. However, training effectiveness remained a question again, and institutions started looking at more informal approaches to conduct training for their employees.

Training 3.0 -- Informal Learning Online: Informal learning is sustainable, and less structured to interfere in the day-to-day work of the employees. So, Training 3.0 is all about creating an informal learning environment that is motivating as well as informative. It tries to utilize the employee’s individual interest and abilities to network amongst peer group to learn and share. As such, human beings are social animal, who are more interested in what others are doing, and they would like to learn from talking and discussing from each other. So, Training 3.0 is about use of the Social Media in training.

Social Media Technologies
There are various types of social media technologies that are available for use in training. Some of these are: Blogs, Wikis, and Social Networks. We will discuss these in the context of training, and how these emerging trends in training technologies are influencing the world of training and development professionals.

According to Technorati – a blog search engine, today there are over 133 million blogs in all knowledge domains, and there are about 900, 000 blog posting every 24 hours. A blog is a website maintained by an individual or a team to share personal reflection and activities. Of theses blogs about 12% are corporate blogs discussing issues related to a company. The blog is a personal space, where other users can provide comments and develop a network. Seventy three percent of bloggers use blog to share their expertise and experiences. Training and development professionals can use many free blog services available to create their own space, and also filter related blogs on the web and make these available to the employees to subscribe. The use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) technology in the blogs make it simple for the users to be informed about new postings regularly. This become a rich learning source, and really does not require any special intervention by the training and development professional except identifying and informing the employees about relevant sources of blog or providing them an orientation on how to find relevant blogs. Some typical blog creation software are eBlogger, moveable type, Word press, Liverjournal, Apache Roller, etc.

Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning quick quick. It is a quick way to create web pages without the knowledge of HTML. But, most importantly it is a collaborative platform to create and share knowledge. The most widely known wiki is Wikipedia, which runs on the Media Wiki software. Besides this, there are many other wiki platform such as the pb wiki, wikispaces, etc. A wiki platform provides an easy to use method to edit webpages, and link to multimedia resources. Having used the www.wikieducator.org platform supported by the Commonwealth of Learning for providing wiki skills training and development of self-learning materials, this author can personally tell about the utility of this simple technology to create content and make it available to employees for learning at very low cost (almost zero cost!). The wiki makes it possible to develop a collaborative space for learners/employees to share and discuss. It keeps a record of all activities on the wiki site, and thus, can be used to record both explicit and tacit knowledge. Installing a company wide wikispace is easy, if some server side technical help is available, or it can also be done in free sites available in abundance.

Social Networks
We all recognize the potentials of social networks in our day-to-day life. It is now possible through the use of technology platforms to do all kinds of socialization activities from sharing photos, and files to provide expert advice and guidance online. The most popular social networking sites are facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Ning. Interestingly, the social networking sites provide an integrated space for blogs, wikis, message boards, and file sharing facilities. It is really a cool place to be in for both socialization and learning. Using social network technologies individual employees can create their own network of professional ‘community of practice’. Organizations can create their own social networks involving employees, customers and all stakeholders through Open Source technologies like elgg.

What’s the Big Idea?
It’s ‘informal learning’! Training and Development (T&D) professionals need to be the change agent and change themselves first to become “Learning Professionals”. As Jay Cross tells in his blog, learning professionals of the future needs to focus on the following three core processes:

  • Facilitating collaborative work and learning in the organizations;
  • Sensing patterns to develop new work practices and solutions; and
  • Working with management to support and fund new ideas and processes.

All these can be done through adoption of a social media technology-based learning space. Today’s organizations need employees who are creative and can think and reflect about their work. Such a workforce can only be developed by transformation at the top level by an understanding of the ‘value of the crowd at the bottom’. So, the biggest challenge before the T&D professional is creating the informal learning space for the employees in the organizations, though technology is not a problem at all. The culture of the organization needs to change from a ‘Tour and Travel’ based training to a ‘Table-based Thinking’ through the use of social media technologies. The use of social media technologies would enable T&D professionals to develop a learning space that is open, participatory and development oriented rather than closed, top-down and training oriented (just training for the sake of training). In such a scenario, the training content becomes resources available online, but are not instructor-led. The learner/trainee/employee takes the initiative to learn and improve, finds experts who can support his/her learning, develop a learning and development path, and implement it through reading, reflecting, doing and reviewing. While all these are also done online, the tacit knowledge generated in the process by the individual is also recorded in the online system making it available to others. The learning path used by one employee for a problem becomes a guide to other future employees. In the learning process, the employee may use blogs of a number of peers and experts inside and outside the organization; chat and videoconference with them; post comments to their blogs and receive advise; create his/her own wikispaces using already available learning resources with Creative Commons licenses; and develop a network of his/her own in the organization as well as outside the world.

Thus, Training 3.0 believes in the following:

  • That the training we intend to provide to a group already exists in some or all of the group members;
  • That people learn better from each other in an informal setting than from a master trainer in a formal setting;
  • That learning is more sustainable when it is situated, contextual, just-in-time, and work-place based rather than at a laboratory/training room/ tourist resort;
  • That people learn best when they have a genuine need to learn and are motivated and interested to learn; and
  • That staff learn best when they take the responsibility of their own learning, without being constantly monitored by a supervisor.

So, a T&D professional who uses Training 3.0 strategies believes in the core principles above, and creates the online social network place for its stakeholders. How does it look like? Training does not happen in scheduled 9 to 5 sessions with its usual coffee/tea and lunch breaks. The T&D professional is now re-designated a the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) of the organization, who with the help of the information technology division sets up a social network site for the organization that becomes the learning gateway for all its employees. It also gives access to the customers/stakeholders of the organization to be a registered user of the social network, thereby making it an open system with access control for the internal members. Individual employees can create their own blogs and profile, set their own goals and learning path. The T&D professionals create groups, to which employees join as per their interest and contribute. They create their own learning resources and work manuals using the wikispaces. The social networking site becomes a space for interaction with the stakeholders of the organization leading to quick response time. Individual employees use the system to search and find resources outside the organization, and create bookmarks and links on the organizational social network thereby adding more content to the network and making the system content rich. In such a learning space, even if an employee joins another organization, the content generated by him/her remains their for others to use while the employee may move on and still continue to update the social networking site of the earlier organization as a professional stakeholder from outside. The social networking site can be used for employee performance and review as we can relate the performance of the individual to the training efforts made. This will also solve the problem of training effectiveness, as we can quantify the time and efforts made vis-a-vis the individual and organizational gains. The system can also take care of the Training 2.0 scenarios to help T&D professionals organize occasional online training sessions/courses as required due to new initiatives and developments in the organizational supra system.

Training technologies are developing fast. New training technologies are now available almost everyday. However, in most organizations the T&D professionals need to adapt to the changing scenario, and the top management need to facilitate the change. It is through the appropriate deployment of technologies that we can leverage its power. A technology used inappropriately is as good as not having it. Thus, it is important to think of strategy first than the technology. A philosophical stand/vision on how the top management views the importance of learning and the need for empowering its employees is of paramount importance to the T&D professionals. With the new set of tools and technologies available to us in Training 3.0, it is possible to take organizations in the direction of its stated objectives. T&D professionals would lead in the new age learning organizations, if they use Social Media Technologies!

Note: This blog post has been selected for Certificate of Merit by the Indian Society for Training and Development in the Emerging Thinkers Awards Category in 2009.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

IGNOU started Community Colleges

The Community College as an alternative and flexible system of higher education and vocational training established itself in the early 20th century in the United States. William Rainey Harper, who became the President of University of Chicago at the age of 35, contributed immensely to the spread of “Junior Colleges” that became popular as Community Colleges later. These colleges normally offered 2 year “Associate Degree” which allowed students to transfer to four year degree college or universities in the United States to study for another 2/3 years to complete a bachelor's degree. These colleges are characterized by open admission, flexible scheduling and curriculum, vocational orientation, collaboration with industry and local organizations, and cost-effectiveness. In 2006–07, there were 1,045 community colleges in the United States, enrolling 6.2 million students (or 35 percent of all postsecondary students enrolled that year) (NCES, 2008). According to a report submitted to the Planning Commission, Govt of India, the first community college in India was established in 1995, and by 2003 there were 95 community colleges with similar objectives as that of the American counterparts. However, not all are recognized by Universities. By starting to recognize the Community Colleges, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has started a “revolution” in Indian vocational and higher education sector, as the intent and objectives of these align with the open learning philosophy of IGNOU. This initiative of IGNOU will lead to more enrollment in the Bachelor Degree Programmes (BDP) in coming years when students pass out of the Associate Degree Scheme from these Community Colleges. However, it will be further good, if IGNOU can take one step more to initiate these Community Colleges to the concept of Distance Education and urge them to start distance learning programmes. Since the objectives of IGNOU is to promote distance education, and democratize higher education, it should always look for opportunity to promote this, and through the distance learning programmes of the Community Colleges, it is possible to reach more students and increase access to higher education . In the United States also the Community Colleges offer a significant number of courses through distance mode. In 2006-7, 97% of the public 2-year degree colleges offered some form of distance learning. So, in India too the concept has a strong potential to make quality education 'reach the unreached'.

While the objective of increasing access to higher education through Community College is welcome and appreciated, it is important that the scheme is implemented and monitored systematically. After the first back of Associate Degree holders are out, the system should be able to inform us, the success rate, trade-wise vocational education imparted, state-wise vocational statistics, percentage of student going in for BDP of IGNOU; placement of the students, etc. It is also necessary to ensure quality of operations and academic offerings in the Community Colleges, and therefore, necessary guidelines, standards, and manuals may be developed. Capacity building of the faculty and non-teaching staff to ensure quality is highly important and regular training programmes should be conducted by IGNOU on various areas such as needs assessment, curriculum development, teaching methodology. Distance learning material development, use of technology in teaching and learning, application of technology in office administration, evaluation technology, etc. It is also important to think of credit transfer of the Associate Degree to regular conventional colleges and universities. To this extent, the University Grants Commission may develop norms and guidelines to be followed by the colleges and universities. If the Associate Degree holders get opportunity to join the conventional higher education system as well, it will add to the value of the scheme and also improve mobility of learners giving them more choice.

In short, a good scheme has been initiated, but there are miles to go before its results are visible to the society. I will be interested in news and views about the success of the scheme and its implementation and monitoring aspects.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

IGNOU goes dual-mode

Distance education systems around the world manifest themselves in primarily two forms: Dual-mode institutions (where distance education is one wing of the face-to-face/ contiguous teaching) and Single mode institutions (where distance education/asynchronous teaching and learning is the prime mode of educational transactions, such as in the Open Universities). However, there are also other organizations forms such as consortia and network modes (due to the emergence of the Internet and its World Wide Web). While the history of distance education is over 150 years, the first single mode distance education university, i.e. Open University, United Kingdom was established in1969. It has always been argued that the dual-mode distance education institutes faced enormous problems of autonomy to exploit the potentials of distance education within the boundaries of the traditional face-to-face teaching learning system. In some dual-mode institutions, it has also been argued that the quality of distance teaching improved as the same faculty that teach in the conventional classroom develop the learning materials and provide learner support at a distance. But, the number of single mode distance education institutions grew to provide autonomy of innovative practices to reach the un-reached by deploying a variety of media and technologies in a quasi-industrial model. While increasing access has been the prime motive of open universities, the conventional universities have adopted distance education to become dual mode to improve their financial position.

When the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) was established in 1985, the prime objective of the legislature was to democratize higher education and provide educational opportunities to those who could not attend the conventional face-to-face institutions for various reasons. IGNOU was also mandated to promote distance education and maintain the quality of distance education in India. The IGNOU Act also emphasized that IGNOU will use innovative educational technologies to deliver its degrees. Open universities are also popular because of their cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness due to economies of scale. It is also not possible for the public sector to establish large number of face-to-face institutions to meet the growing demands of the citizens, and therefore, promoted the establishment of single mode distance education universities. So far India has one national Open University and fourteen state open universities. Today the distance education system caters to over 25 percent of students in higher education. In order to accommodate the same number of students in face-to-face institutions, we need to create over 1000 universities. This emphasizes that the distance education system has both its political and economic place in our society. However, in spite of over 45 years of the existence of distance education and nearly 25 years of the national Open University, the quality of education in the distance education system is questioned. Sometimes, this is due to lack of awareness about the robustness of the educational practices in the Open Universities and sometimes due to the over zealous educational administrators who without caring for quality offer educational programmes through distance education. The distance education system needs to be strengthened at a time when there is a growing perception that without face-to-face interaction the quality of education suffers. Further adoption of new technology as envisaged in the IGNOU Act is the need of the hour.

While technology augmentation is underway, the IGNOU has suddenly decided to start face-to-face programmes on the Campus from July 2009. However, it may be quickly added that there are some highly technical programmes that are already offered through face-to-face mode in collaboration with other Government agencies (such as the Hotel Management and the Nautical Sciences). Interestingly, these programme were offered in collaboration with institutes that had no authority to grant degrees, and thus, they wanted IGNOU’s collaboration, and IGNOU had very little contribution in their design, development and delivery. IGNOU has not offered any sound reasons for starting face-to-face teaching, except that it says some form of face-to-face programmes are already in operation, and other Open Universities like Hong Kong Open University, Athabasca University, Canada and Open University, UK are also offering face-to-face programmes! Lack of sound academic rationale for starting face-to-face programme by IGNOU needs some clarification. The Govt. of India needs to explain to the nation its policies and priorities vis-à-vis distance education.

Without going into the context in which other open universities offer face-to-face programmes, it is important for IGNOU to think of its role and actions.

  • If IGNOU’s role is to promote distance education, is it right to start face-to-face teaching and create two categories of students? Do starting of face-to-face programmes lead to promotion of distance education?
  • Has IGNOU conducted any cost-analysis before starting face-to-face teaching? What has happened to the concept of ‘economies of scale’ and ‘cost-effectiveness’?
  • Is the present staff strength in each faculty sufficient to conduct quality face-to-face teaching? Is there sufficient infrastructure in the University to conduct face-to-face programmes, such as hostels, laboratory, etc?
  • How does IGNOU think to reach the un-reached through the face-to-face programmes?

Distance education is not averse to face-to-face teaching as long as it is used as one of the medium of teaching and learning and not the ‘sole’ mode of teaching and learning. So, face-to-face interaction is used in distance education as a support to enrich the learning experiences depending on the need of the subject and/or the need of the learner to have extra support. So, for having research degree programmes in face-to-face mode in Open Universities (which is usually happening else where), is natural as it is a specialized training not expected to have more number of students. But, to start master degree programmes face-to-face for only 20 students on campus is outcome of an elitist thinking that does not believe in democratization of higher education.

As a distance education professional engaged in research and training on distance education, I have been talking of the advantages of distance education for the last 15 years, and suddenly my own University starts face-to-face teaching. It not only leaves me thinking and searching for the justifications, but also gives me a sinking feeling. I ask to myself, is distance education dead? Is it not contemporary? I asked one of my colleagues what is your opinion on this issue? The reply was – at the time of convergence due to technology, there is a need to re-think distance education. Yes, there is a need to re-think. But, in which direction? The conventional universities are adopting technology to use e-learning (that provided flexible, open and distance learning opportunities). This is progressive thinking, as the emergence of technology has made it possible that the ‘distance’ could be next door, and interaction could be more than the classroom! We have always attributed face-to-face teaching as rigid and in-flexible system, yet, the University has decided to go dual mode. I wonder what kinds of technologies the University will use in the face-to-face classrooms to be innovative and reach more than 20 students. I am looking for a rationale for going dual mode, as a teacher of distance education. Maybe I get my answers soon, and I request readers to help me in my endeavors.

N.B. This is not a criticism, but a self-reflection of a distance education teacher.